How 75 Pairs of Earrings Give Me Great Delight
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Lifestyle

What Owning 75 Pairs of Earrings Does for Me

And how every earring somehow changed me.

gif of woman with pretty flower smiley earrings
Meg Lewis

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.

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