I’ve always considered myself a compassionate person. One of the biggest reasons I pierce people is out of a sense of helping, of healing. In piercing, there is no force or coercion in my eyes- no one is forced into it, and although there may be societal pressures to conform by getting a piercing you won’t be ostracized for NOT getting one. I genuinely feel (and have said it numerous times) that in this society, the piercer is somewhat of an equivalent to the shaman. In tribal societies with a current shamanic tradition, the ritualistic marking of the auspicious times of someone’s life is often facilitated by a healer, magician, shaman, witch, or other person who lives partially in the spirit world. In our society, laid so low by crass consumerism and hollow rhetoric, our auspicious occasions are celebrated with purchases. You turn 16, you can buy a car. Turn 18, you can sign a contract and buy a gun. Turn 21, buy alcohol. Turn 25 and your insurance goes down. Sure sounds depressing when you say it like that, huh? It’s because it IS depressing. The human spirit is a resilient thing though, and we collectively have created new and meaningful rituals, born from our collective memories and consciousness but forged in the fire of modern life. For some of us, our timeline is marked by what we choose to do with our bodies. Often, a piercing is someone’s first experience with body autonomy…a little girl turns 7 or 8 and is a “big girl” now, and her parents allow her to CHOOSE to get her ears pierced. Sometimes, a navel piercing at around 16 or 17 is similar to a Bat Mitzvah or Quinceanera on a much smaller scale. It’s an important bonding ritual for women in this society, at all ages…I had a few groups of mature ladies come in during the Women’s Marches and all get piercings together, and it’s super common to get a piercing with your girlfriends after a breakup. An open-minded cultural anthropologist would observe that in all these cases something auspicious happened (birthday, coming of age, a conflict, a loss) and so these people gathered their clan, went to the magic temple, and brought the shaman an offering. The shaman then says the words, does the thing, and while there may be some pain and some blood, the person is then healed, reborn, or otherwise transformed. It’s truly beautiful and humbling when it’s like that.
The great majority of my clients aren’t suffering at all and are celebrating, and we’ll talk about whatever, have a grand old time, and high-five when it’s all over. Over the last 2 years, basically ever since the 2016 presidential campaigns started really ramping up, I’ve noticed a huge upswing of people coming in very disturbed, upset, and depressed at the state of the world. I completely understand. In my life I don’t recall a time where the country has been this divided. People are on edge, and lots of people are taking a lot of things personally. Once again, I completely understand. Between television and social media, we’re inundated with images of persecution, violence, and hate. Every day brings new outrages- murders never ending, terrorism of all kinds, and the steady drumbeat that “someone is taking something from you”. It’s no wonder that the USA feels a bit like a gunpowder mill with a lot of static electricity in the air. As someone who isn’t really piercing for money, but because of the shamanic aspect of it, I feel the need to help heal the soul as well as the body. When during the course of my conversation with a piercing client they bring up a topic that is causing them stress, I will often go ahead and talk with them about it, whatever it may be. One could argue (and with my current perspective I’d tell them they’re right) that engaging in any conversation not immediately relevant to the job at hand is just asking for trouble, but like I said, I genuinely like to help people. I offer my five-figure client base as proof that the vast majority of people enjoy not only the mechanical aspects of the job I do, but also the experience I provide.
Unfortunately, sometimes the magic just isn’t there, and even more unfortunately it’s frequently my failing when it isn’t. When a client tells me that climate change has her feeling hopeless, I should understand that she is telling me that she has fears for the future, but sometimes I forget that and will explain that the planet is on about a 23 degree tilt, and has a long, wobbling orbit, and that process called procession leads to climatic shifts over large parts of the earth on regular cycles known as far back as Ancient India and Egypt. That’s not he best way of trying to help, and worse, to some folks it just sounds like “CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER!!!” making me a Bad Guy who doesn’t care about the planet. When a client tells me that the Orange Dictator has her terrified that lots of people from other countries are going to be interned in concentration camps, I feel the need to point out that it’s highly unlikely, given how property owners love keeping values high, employers like to keep the wages low, colleges like to keep the rosters full, and the banks love to loan all of them money. That’s pretty bleak in and of itself, and some people would hear that and only hear a lack of condemnation of the president, instead of a fair assessment of the Kafkaesque nature of the situation.
The toughest for me has been when people come in, and during the course of conversation, they bring up how “Old White Men” are ruining everything. Used to be, every now and then you’d hear it, but over the last few years it’s gotten more and more frequent. Used to be, it was easy to chalk it up to someone’s bad day, or interpret it as a way of saying “I’m scared about my future”, but as it gets to be a frequent thing clients say to me I find myself experiencing compassion fatigue. It becomes all too easy to satirize, or condescend. Worse yet, for some people, anything other than solemn, reverent agreement that old white men are indeed the root of someone’s personal problems sounds like Nazism or White Supremacy.
The bodies we occupy are our means of experiencing the world, and the body one occupies has an effect on the way the world interacts with you, and with the way you interact with the world. I forget sometimes that rule applies to me as well. Instead of getting offended myself and responding sarcastically, I’d do well to separate my body from my mind and remember that the only reason they’re even saying it in the first place is that they’re scared about the future too, and in that moment don’t even think of me as being one of “those people”…they’re thinking of me as the guy who is helping them. I’m afraid that the toxic identity politics will get worse before it gets better, but, hopefully, with the power of a positive outlook, compassion, logic, magic, and sharp objects PLUS shiny things, I can help those people who are scared, upset, or having a bad day into people having a celebration…and increase the overall joy in the world not just for them but also for myself.