Vogue Philippines recently had on their cover a 106-year-old tattoo artist with tattoos all over. The internet was split with many absolutely loving it and others using it to remind people that tattoos age poorly and that they should keep that in mind when considering getting inked. This discussion about denying ourselves things in the present because of our perception of the future is present in so many areas of life not just inking your skin. Think about all the things you deny yourself in the name of being wise and practical. Let’s talk about how and why we rob ourselves of joy today in the name of protecting tomorrow.
So many of our decisions are motivated by fear. In the case of tattoos, the fear of having weird-looking tattoos when you’re older. Having weird-looking tattoos that people then laugh at you over, to be specific. I think of all the different types of food we deny ourselves for fear of gaining weight and being treated differently in a society that celebrates thin people and discriminates against heavier ones. We live in fear of regrets when there’s no way to live without having regrets. It’s literally the cost of doing business.
We live in perpetual fear of everything, not least of all death. Why else would we have old people on diets excluding things like sugar and oil? You have people in their 90s being forced by their doctors and families to follow these strict diets so that they can live longer. What? Let your grandfather drink all that sugar and let your mother eat those pastries. It’s not that serious. They’ve already lived.
We deny ourselves so much based on the assumption that we will live for long. I think about how girls are often cautioned against dyeing their hair because of the long-term effects on the hair, drying it out and making it brittle. This girl and I had a mutual friend, so our paths occasionally crossed. The girl’s hair was always a different fun colour, from purples to reds and everything in between. She died suddenly before her 25th birthday. We all assume we’ll live long enough to regret those tattoos and regret those carbs. A significant number of us are wrong and it would never occur to us.
I think of the many things, clothes, notebooks, that water bottle gift that someone gave me that I don’t use because I’m saving them to use in the future. I’m being practical, wise. If I died tomorrow, it will be without once using that cute water bottle that someone close to me gave me.
We imagine we have time and we’re wrong.
Self-denial as a virtue
We live in a society in which denying ourselves is a virtue. If you want something and can find the self-control to keep yourself from taking it, you are worthy of praise. This is especially true of small things like food and sleep. It’s almost like denying yourself joy is the name of the game. Someone on Twitter says they spend their Sundays lazing in bed, and people accuse them of wasting time. Our idea of fun is bragging about how we’re not sleeping, not taking any time off and spending every minute of every day working. People who listen to their bodies and take the time off are lazy. We’re encouraged to deny ourselves at every turn.
Live. Risk making mistakes. Get those tattoos. Colour your hair. Go on that trip. Sleep. Eat whatever you want. Sleep some more. Write that book. Buy that guitar and learn to play it. Wear that dress you’re saving for a special day. Get that tattoo. Add a piercing. Eat some more of whatever you want. Do it on the good dishes and cutlery reserved for visitors. Don’t let fear hold you back completely. It will hold you back, just make sure you occasionally fight it. You only live once and you don’t know how long you get.
The Danger of Wisdom
By Jack Gilbert
We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable. We go hungry
amid the giant granaries
this world is. We store up plenty
for when we are old and mild.
It is our strength that deprives us.
Like Keats listening to the doctor
who said the best thing for
tuberculosis was to eat only one
slice of bread and a fragment
of fish each day. Keats starved
himself to death because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne.
Emerson and his wife decided to make
love sparingly in order to accumulate
his passion. We are taught to be
moderate. To live intelligently.
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