Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Ethel community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Subscribe here

What Owning 75 Pairs of Earrings Does for Me

And how every earring somehow changed me.

Comment Icon
gif of woman with pretty flower smiley earrings
Meg Lewis
Comment Icon

Here I am again, setting out all 75 pairs of my earrings across our wood floor to admire them. Every single one I pick up gives me a zing of pleasure. Every pair has a story. And every earring somehow changed me.

I came late to wearing and loving earrings. I never thought I was the earring type. My hair was too long or too wild, plus my mother wouldn’t let me pierce my ears and I was busy being a good girl growing up.

Besides that, my gorgeous older sister whose every move I copied, didn’t like them, and that meant neither did I. I didn’t wear earrings when I was a young bride. I didn’t wear them when that marriage quickly imploded in 1990. Instead, I fled to Manhattan and the first thing I wanted to do was recreate myself.

I ditched my pastels and began wearing all black. I stopped straightening my hair and let it go big and wild and curly. But my transformation wasn’t complete until I walked past a tattoo/earring place with rows and rows of huge glittering earrings in the window, and I suddenly thought, this is it. Anyone who would wear these earrings is a true badass, someone not ruined by disaster, someone who can do anything. I will look like that woman first, and then I will become her.

And so I did.

My first earrings were giant black circles hand-painted with cowboys riding on them. Next, I bought glittery hearts that were shoulder dusters, a huge outlandish globe of crystals. I never spent much money on them because I always lost them somehow, but it didn’t matter because there were always more to be had,

I loved how free I felt wearing them, how I could attract attention, or rather my earrings could. I had a job back then, writing about high fashion for Macy’s, but when I walked into a meeting wearing plastic pink pigs from my ears, my boss called me into her office and suggested that my dress wasn’t up to professional standards. 

Years passed, and I was working full time as a writer at home, when the pandemic hit. My second husband, Jeff, and I were quarantined with a curfew in place. Everyone wore sweatpants and T-shirts and had COVID-19 hair. The world as we knew it had ended.

And so, I had my big book tour. I’d bought new spiffy clothing for my With or Without You hardback tour, extraordinary flashy earrings, too. But everything was canceled.

I couldn’t let my novel die, so I put on my tour earrings and made a short video of myself talking about my book. My publisher liked it so much, they sent it on to bookstores and libraries!

Then I began to see a way out of the terror, for me and for other writers. I told fellow scribes that I was starting the Nothing is Canceled Book Tour, where they could send me short videos and I’d post them. That soon skyrocketed into A Mighty Blaze, which I cofounded with New York Times best-selling author Jenna Blum to promote authors and indie bookstores during the pandemic.

Now I was video interviewing stars like John Irving, David Duchovny, Sue Miller and Elizabeth Strout, and that called for fancy new earrings, focal points that might dazzle viewers! When A Mighty Blaze began to offer merch, earrings were the first thing I insisted we sell.

But where I bought my earrings was now newly important. I sought out artisans, people who might be struggling. I bought six pairs from musicians who ran Handmade Handplayed and made earrings out of guitar wire. I bought from little shops on Etsy. And context now mattered, too. One of my first pairs, with cowboys riding horses, had one cowboy carrying a rifle, something that didn’t strike me in my 20s but now, in our gun culture, I abhorred. So, I took a black sharpie and erased the gun, giving those earrings back their innocence.

All, of course, is not all light, even with jewelry. I have earrings that carry pain for me, though I cannot bring myself to wear them. My mother died three years ago, and the four pairs of earrings she gave me sit in a drawer. I’ll never get rid of them, but I don’t know if I can wear them either because the sorrow’s too great. My sister became bitterly estranged from me, but just before she did, she bought me a pair of gorgeous blue earrings. To me those baubles are a symbol that she once loved me enough to buy me something lovely. And maybe in the future, she will love me again.

Earrings started out as a way for me to recreate myself, to give myself a persona I might live up to. But really, my earrings taught me something far more valuable: how to connect more deeply to all the parts of myself and to others.

Editor's Picks
Find money-making endeavors that are personally satisfying.
, July 18, 2024
Here are the ones that top the list.
, July 18, 2024
Breaking up could be the best thing one can do.
, July 18, 2024