On December 21, 2015–the longest night of the year–I left the house to buy wrapping paper and came back with my nose pierced.
Today, that mildly "Mid-Life Crisis" gesture seems prescient: in our 2016 post-election slump and period of demonstrable instability around the globe, getting my nose pierced again after decades of not having any jewelry seems like a statement of resistance, a pre-emptive lack of compliance, an adornment that screams: "NOPE. Fuck You Very Much."
As a young woman I was never the most visibly rebellious punk in my social circle. My brand was somehow feminine and inconsistent. Maybe I was more "Art School Disestablishmentarian" than true punk rock; regardless, my embrace of counterculture was deep and wide.
Time passed. We all grew older, and some things changed. We got more bills, children, responsibilities, and we can't actually live in squats any longer, at the very least because of bad knees. A 47 year-old living in a squat or a collective indicates that you're homeless; a broke artist who is actually 25; or some time ago nurtured an unwillingness to embrace a fully-fledged adulthood.
But some things stayed true. The greatest part of being punk was the on-the-job training in how to rebel against the popular--and often unjust--cultural and political narratives. We learned about Reaganomics from the people who suffered the most under Reagan's policies, when social welfare programs, college tuition grants, and support for the mentally ill were gutted. My gay friends were already deeply entrenched in a war against a terrifying enemy: AIDS, which was destroying them from within, and was being routinely ignored by the government, social, and religious organizations that should have been first in line to assist them; we all learned the value of radical activism with their guidance. In a ghostly image of our present, my ex-boyfriend was stabbed by a skinhead at a party.
This early skepticism for the dominant narratives has served us well. People I grew up with have, in their own lives, maintained a vigilant eye on the culture that seems to have consumed the United States. A few years ago, we were immediately suspicious of the "Tea Party" because they looked an awful lot like the hateful but powerful minority which ran "Focus on the Family," a group that took umbrage against anyone having a life outside Judeo-Christian marriage (with the exception, I suppose, of either sleeping with your father á la King Lot, or marrying your dead brother's wife or run the risk of losing your sandals.)
The "Christian Coalition" was pretty fast and loose with the separation of Church and State in the 90's; the Tea Party looks a lot like them, too. Zombie politicians keep rising from the crypt of the Eighties and Nineties: in the six weeks since the election, I've read about Cheney, Kissinger, Gingrich; I imagine if they can figure out the secrets of reanimation, the current GOP will bring back Secretary of the Interior James Watt, Senators Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. What IS Ralph Reed, the smarmy Christian boychik agitator, up to these days? Steve Bannon smells a lot like him, and moves in similarly crafty, Machiavellian ways.
Our values were tested during the first Gulf War, with "Stormin' Norman" leading the charge of NATO-Backed Somethings. But we were fired up. We marched, we made art, we made music, we RESISTED. In 1991, it was inconceivable that we would be resurrecting our own zombie army to protest the warmongering, oppositional zombies who made the executive decision--with the aid of manufactured data points about Weapons of Mass Destruction--to destroy all semblance of stability in the Middle East in the name of "democracy." Who could imagine we'd be suiting up for a second Gulf War, one that would make far less sense than the first?
Here we are again. And we are some grizzled Anti-Establishment foot soldiers by this time. Most of us are closer to the end of the show than the beginning, but we are battle-scarred and battle-trained. I still own the old anti-Gulf War posters I designed in 2003 and recently reviewed their value.
Conclusion: still relevant.
The other now-borderline prophesy made during my "Campaign of NOPE" was getting the tattoo I spent six months researching. Having remained ink-free through punk rock, grunge in Seattle, attending the stereotypically anti-establishment Evergreen State College, and marrying a musician during my 47 years on earth, it took me until 2016 to commit to a design I found worthy of wearing for the rest of my life.
The tattoo starts on the inside of my wrist, coils around my elbow, twists once under and over my bicep and then across the entire span of my shoulders. It encompasses 4.6 billion years of life on earth, starting with cyanobacteria, rising up through 4 billion years until the Ediacaran Period, when the oceans became populated by alien creatures that we can't even identify as owning heads, much less how they feed.
The 600 million years after that are filled with strange and wondrous beasts; the bizarre relative of us all, a smiling elbowed fish named Tiktaalik; the sail-backed Dimetredons, followed by the sturdiest, oddest looking survivor of the world's largest extinction Lystrosaurus, from which we are all the unlikely but thankful descendants. (The Permian is the largest extinction on record: 94 percent of species were extinguished in a protracted, methane-CO2 nightmare. THAT is climate change.)
By the time we get to a mere million years ago, things are more recognizably "us." Catlike creatures and giant hoofed mammals are running around looking similar to our current lions, rhinoceros' and camels save for their enormous size. A little humanoid was making some noise, but certainly wasn't the dominant critter on the savannah; homo sapiens sapiens didn't formally make an entrance until 200,000 years ago.
The final chapter of my tattoo can be condensed into 10,000 years: tiny nomads, a couple pyramids, farming, town life. This hominid mammal's era is setting: the sun is dropping behind a town on a cliff (based, possibly prophetically, or maybe just synchronously, on an engraving of Medieval Nuremburg) from which one tiny figure takes a graceful swan dive into nothingness.
If this tattoo is bleak to those immediately married to the idea of our species' continuation, that wasn't the reason I got it. Instead the highlights of the tattoo--and the only color in what is a four-foot timeline across my body--illustrate that despite catastrophic collapses of habitable climate, which makes life for mammals, plants, sea life, theropods, and sauropods almost unthinkable, there were always survivors.
Little Lystrosaurus is the most sturdy example: it was, despite being named with the unromantic Latin term for "Shovel Lizard," innately well-suited to survive: a burrowing, buck-toothed vegetarian with buggy eyes, it was the dominant species on earth for almost a million years.
This does not mean we will be dominant in the near future. At only 200,000 years old as a species, homo sapiens sapiens seem to have a profound, intractable nihilism built into its genetic makeup. The current geo-political climate makes clear that the people who could most quickly assume powerful and meaningful decision-making to assure our survival have bucked all trends and want to instead see what lies over the cliff.
So be it. I will use all my breath, all my power, and all my intelligence to make sure that whatever our world's future Lystrosaurus might be, I will fight for its continued success.
In the weeks since the election, I've had conversations with friends about the call to resist. "I'm feeling PUNK AS FUCK," one said. To another, I noted that embracing the spirit of our youth was like coming home.
It's been a strange circuitous journey to the seed of who I am, but this is it: a homecoming to resistance, fighting injustice, pointing out hypocrisy, and screaming like our lives depend on it.
Our lives depend on it.