New Holes in My Life: Crocs, Nose Piercings, and Taking Space

The Crocs in question.

The Crocs in question.

It is a late night in Unit 2 Cunningham when I turn to my roommate, packing the last of her move-out day boxes, and say, “If we can pull off Crocs, I think we’ll have made it.” It’s the last sweet-balm of freshman-year-buzz, the confidence to test the limits of our quote-unquote style and the headassery it takes to spend it on Crocs. By summer when I brush against a gaudy yellow pair in Vacaville and the rubber suckers have the nerve to bounce back up off the floor, I knew my fate was sealed. They are hideous in the best way possible. The periwinkle blue pair I had as a second grader pales in comparison to the rain coat yellow ones I choose for myself now. It is as great as you’d imagine. And it is not long before the roommate and I are sporting our new friends to Physics 7B review sessions and Safeway ice cream runs alike.

It is a late night on Dwight, dangerously close to Industrial piercings, when I turn to the roommate over end-of-semester Rachas, and ask, “What if next time I don’t pierce my ears.” It is the bitter craze of semester three, too soon to know what we’re doing but soon enough to be feeling the burn out—it is an experimental time. By the first week of winter break, I use the last of my caution to choose the left side of my nose over the right (so my hair part can hide what I may later regret) and get a small stud at the cusp of my left ala (which is apparently what that part of your nose is called). In the air of maxing out on the edge, I decide not to tell anyone about the stud, save for my roommate and a distant family friend in LA, until after the fact. And it is with that silent coming about that I fasten the flashiest jewelry I own to the near-center of my face.

It is the summer after sophomore year and I am feeling pretty subdued. As life slows to surround me in its new pace, I feel the stark contrast from who I was just a semester ago-- or perhaps, who I still am and what my personality was then able to achieve. Coming home to my traditional Philippine-born Chinese parents with the surprise nose piercing was just as exciting as you’d imagine, and the Croc-induced eye rolls between LeConte and Dwinelle no less.  In a time when Gradescope notifications and ordering food aloud was enough to downcast my gaze, it is interesting to me the ways that I choose to take space and the desire I have to do so in this whole spell of the big italicized “coming of age.”

Forgive my hand-wavy conclusions on identity, but I think at this point I can blame this occurrence on several, dare I say, holes in my life: the desire to experiment with space, the desire to test myself, the desire to be different.

There is enough here to call for the well-deserved eye roll of another victim to the late teen/twenty-something experimentation phase. It’s time for haircuts and major changes and, of course, new piercings and tattoos. To heck with identity! This is, after all, the subsect of generation that once conceived and utilized #yolo, bastardized the words epic and vibe into oblivion, and kept the Twilight franchise alive.  

But I think, no matter the corniness of the trope, there’s a reason why these “adventures in appearance” happen at such high frequency at this time. We are older than grade school, when our parents and Disney Channel dictated our fashion choices (@literally every boy in my second grade class who cut their hair like Zack and Cody, I’m looking at you), yet we are young enough to not be that afraid of the repercussions.

Right after I got my piercing, I remember not immediately feeling one way or the other about it. I thought it was cool but I thought it was more wild that I could see my own nose again. Staring at the mirror, off the buzz of the perceived permanence thinking welp, this just happened. Which makes me think a small part of me was just testing if I would go through with it. I wasn’t stepping up the clout so much as daring myself to make noise.

Still more in my post-piercing emotion was the feeling of wariness. At family parties and at sibling tournaments, I’d find myself always watching for that disapproving gaze, the eye contact to wander just a little bit south, the tweak in the smile that told me, yes, an opinion was being formed about me. I have always loved and hated that sentiment. And what perhaps all of this, crocs and studs alike, have been about was dancing around that line, of knowing that I was under critical eyes, and not wanting to be submissive to it. The nose stud is sick and the Crocs are indeed extremely comfortable (even in adventure mode), but the biggest reason why I got them—over clout, over practicality, over appearance—was to play with the fire of that line. To speculate what was expected of me as one of a thousand in the undergraduate cesspool and wanting to challenge it. To feel the hesitation of my voice in the classroom and wanting to fight it. Of sensing the doubt coming from every direction in my life, as the second year slump tends to send barreling down, and wanting to be loud—not to claim my own identity so much as to prove that I still had the capacity to be loud, to do the act of claiming

I hesitate to use the word judgement, because there is a negative, oppressive connotation to the sentiment. But the truth of the matter is that everyone is judging everything, in all ways and always, in the sense that constantly forming conclusions on what we encounter is part of being a sentient being in a world with many degrees of freedom. Despite this, I still feel my unease at being the subject of said judgement, and perhaps these “loud” assets to my life are not so much to play it cool and give others less to judge so much as turning up the volume to make it clear that I’m the one holding the remote.

And I think about that. How I am the result of my circumstance, how big schools and big numbers have made me crave that sense of identity, and how sometimes I miss what self declaration feels like, enough to settle for just the declaration part. But as hasty as that may sound, I somehow don’t think that’s all bad. Because do I feel I am defined by or intrinsically identified by my nose piercing and yellow crocs, no, not really, I am not even quite sure what that says about a person in the grand scheme of the modern melting pot. But I do appreciate the act of taking space, the exercise, rather, and think that’s important.

And perhaps what I ought to wield in this in-between of self exploration, what I’d encourage in all of this here and there: taking space is not so much a series of decisions but an exercise. An always. Fill the holes. Dig some new ones. The “right” permutation of your circumstance will follow—but knowing so comes later, and the act of being is right now.

Jennifer Co