Getting Tatted at 21, Regretting it at 22

_DSC6107 by Jennifer Vo-Nguyen

When I turned 21, I got three tattoos within two days. I got a huge flower along my collar bone, my name spelled in Vietnamese on my chest, and an arrow on my arm. This was a time where I was rebellious and wild. I got a lot of piercings done, too. I wanted to have a “bad-ass” reputation and be covered in tattoos to look cool and hardcore. I was living my life recklessly and didn’t think about the consequences that may come from my actions. But now I want to rip all my tattoos off.

I have become more serious about my studies and career goals. Unlike the person that I was when I was 21 (even though that was only a year ago), I’ve matured a lot and take my life seriously now. I’ve come to realize that having huge tattoos on my body could potentially get in the way of my career path, and that’s part of the reason why I want to take them off. The other reason is that I don’t find tattoos aesthetically pleasing anymore. I no longer like the look of having drawings and symbols on my body.

My nose piercing, which my parents hated and served as a symbol of my rebellion, was easily taken off. Only in my dreams would it be that easy to take my tattoos off. I guess it’s OK to be young and make mistakes, but I wish my mistake wasn’t so permanent. I do plan to have all four of my tattoos removed in the future, but from my research, it would cost a lot and be very painful.

Until I am financially stable enough to go under a laser, I will just have to suck it up and live with the consequences of my irresponsible actions. The person that I am now would never get any tattoos. She is goal driven and only cares about graduating and building a successful career. But when I’m old and wrinkly, I will (hopefully) be tattoo-free and will look back and laugh at how dumb I was when I was 21.

The Mirror

me!

 

My mirror is dusty. It sits in my carpeted bedroom, all but unused, and I cannot bring myself to clean it.

 

“Every teenager is self-conscious!” my mother has always chided. “This is normal. It’ll pass.”

 

The thing is, I don’t hate how I look. I’ve got a killer jawline, curves for days, and an adorable haircut. I don’t hate the way I dress. My fashion sense lies somewhere between a wannabe punk and a 2005 emo. I love my black skinny jeans and grungy beanies. But the crippling dysphoria, oh, how it kills me.

 

When people look at me, they see a tomboy. An androgynous one, perhaps, but clearly a girl. In the words of a less than kind friend, “You look like a punk butch! It’s, like, your whole thing.”

 

But I am not a tomboy. Not a girl. Not a “punk butch.”

 

I’m a boy.

 

I see the way my beloved black jeans hug my hips and I cringe. My cut-up band T-shirts reveal my chest, small, but forever a tell. My face, even with the square jaw and high cheekbones that make me feel like a Greek god on my best days, looks feminine.   

 

I try to romanticize myself. A feminine young man, a dandy. A 19th century fop. A young, androgynous devotee of Apollo back in ancient times. But then I look in the mirror and my illusion shatters.

 

“I identify as a guy who likes guys,” I correct the friend, the less-than-kind one. “I mean, I’m pansexual for sure. But when you call me a lesbian, it invalidates me. It’s crushing. I’m trying to look like a guy. Not like…whatever your image of a lesbian is.”

 

It’s an endless cycle of frustration. Of invalidation. People should be able to look however they want, no?

 

I wish I had a clean solution for all of this dysphoria, but I don’t. I have hope and excitement about my future, but please, everybody — be sensitive to your trans friends. Our everyday life is a battle.

Portland area winter hikes. Part 1

Forest Park as seen from NW Aspen avenue

One of the many things that make hiking in the forest such a beautiful experience is the knowledge that it is far older than us and the perception that it will be around long after we die. This perceived permanence always allows us the space to appreciate Oregon’s forests some other day. However, any of them could burn away by next summer.

I was born and raised in Oregon but since I started school I have used it as an excuse to be less adventurous. In light of the Eagle Creek and subsequent fires, I have made an effort to explore more and appreciate the beauty Oregon has to offer before it disappears.  

This post is the first in a series of three winter hikes. Many hikes become inaccessible or too dangerous in the winter time, so I will focus on hikes that are not only safely accessible and trekkable, but still beautiful during the cold months.  

Macleay Park

On a snowy Tuesday morning, I opted to go on a hike that requires no driving for Portlanders or park fees whatsoever, and I found Macleay Park.

From campus you can take the NS streetcar line to the NW 23rd and Marshall stop. From there you can make your way through a cute neighborhood by foot until you reach NW Upshur Street. The west end of this street dead ends at the park. After walking under the Balch Gulch Bridge, you will find the entrance to the trail, which has very clear instructions on possible routes depending on how deep into Forest Park you want to explore.

The great part about this hike is you can easily add it to the beginning or end of a busy day with not much preparation or planning. The trail is wide, easy to walk and is in excellent condition. I was able to hike the entire 2-mile loop comfortably in everyday tennis shoes. Same goes for the 6-mile loop: no hiking poles or fancy boots needed.

The small 2-mile loop brings you back to the top of the historic Balch Gulch bridge which is the route I enjoyed on my quick excursion before class. One of the things I found lovely about this hike was the structures. The beauty of this hike doesn’t necessarily rely on the lush greenery that comes about it in summer. The Lower Macleay trail runs along Balch Creek, and hikers encounter several wood bridges across the creek before they reach the Stone House.

The Stone House, known by some as the witch’s castle, is about fifteen minutes in. It is the point where the Lower Macleay trail intersects Forest Park’s Wildwood trail.

This trail is popular for Portlanders that want to get out of the city for a quick escape. However, this may make it a bit crowded on weekends. I would recommend visiting it on a weekday before the locals from the surrounding neighborhood get off work. I only encountered a handful of hikers during my visit on a Tuesday morning.

Hope(less?)

me!

 

Sitting at my computer in my drafty little apartment, I’m sure I’m just a few mouse-clicks from insanity. I’ve got company tonight and work tomorrow, an essay due the same day, a lengthy blog, an essay Thursday — and about 500  pages of reading. All must be done within days of each other. I’m barely 19 and this seems awfully overwhelming.

Work to pay the rent. Go to school so that you can one day leave your food service job. Perform on the weekends so you don’t go crazy. Remember to be an attentive boyfriend, help your friends heal from their extensive traumas because they simply cannot on their own. Ignore your mental health and need for sleep. Finish that book. Make that discussion post. Attend that rehearsal. Watch your spending.

I push the laptop away.

I’m wrong, I decide. Overwhelmed is just too small a word for it.

Such is the life of a college student.

And yet, as I type and type, read and read, I don’t feel unhappy. Swamped and unmoored, sleepy and irritable, yes, but never unhappy. There is a spark inside me that work and school cannot put out. A happiness that my dear friends’ pain cannot quash. A stability and faith that my own mental illnesses cannot kill.

I have hope: That one day I will be in the career I want. That my friends will not be tormented by their minds. That my workload will be manageable.

There’s no panacea for college stress. Yoga and color-coded planners work for some people. Isolation and crappy dining hall food works for others. Diving into my workload and insomnia works for me.

All I know is that I am happy. Imperfect and overwhelmed, but happy.

I log back into my laptop. I smile at the screen. And back to work I go.

I love political science…right?

me!

 

It’s fall 2017, and I’m sitting in my freshman honors class. “And what’s your major?” my professor asks.

 

“I’m a political science major with a double minor in legal studies and theatre arts — and I’m on the pre-law track.” There’s a beat.

 

“Wow,” the professor chuckles. “That’s…a lot.”

 

glow. See, I’m the kind of overachiever who needs to, as I say, “major in everything.” I’m only 17 and academia is my thing. I know I’m smart.  My teenage bravado is real.

 

Winter term comes and I pile on even more credits, a political internship, an ex officio board position, a cabaret I perform in, my job, my social life. My political science classes are starting to weigh on me. Theory and economics wander into my dreams. My internship is overtaking my normal homework.

 

“Can’t wait to see President Jules!” one of my cabaret friends jokes one weekend. I glow. See, I only sleep tl3 hours a night, and my glow might be a little burnished now, but I’m an overachiever! I love politics more than anything!  Right?

 

I ignore the fact that I do much better in my English classes. It requires much less effort on my part, but I WANT to put in effort. English is the one place I feel free. But I’m going to the president one day! Politics is my thing. Right?

 

The spring term comes. I up my hours at work, keep up with my credits, and only take political science courses. I slowly notice my grades slipping. This is infuriating! I’m an overachiever! I get a tattoo that says “Nonstop” in a vain attempt to grab my passion back. I’ve made so much of myself political at this point that I can’t face how miserable I am. My weekend cabaret becomes the only thing that makes me happy. I drop the internship and board membership — really, I just let them slip away.

 

On comes the next fall term — I’ve turned 18 by now, still full of teenage bravado, still the overachiever. I did take 16 credits and work twenty-five hours a week all summer, after all!

 

I take a deep breath one day, staring at my computer screen. I carefully select “ENGLISH” as my major and political science as my minor.

 

And I glow.