Thoughts from novelist L.J. Sellers, who now writes first thing every day, even if the bank account is low and the bathroom needs cleaning.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Trikes, Tattoos, and Turning 40
This morning I'm posting an essay I wrote a few years ago. It's an opportunity to get to know me (and my writing). If I were to write a similar essay today, it would be called "Pain, Pools, and Turing 50." (Sounds like a another blog.)
Last Friday my husband turned 40. This weekend he’s putting the finishing touches on a three-wheeled motorcycle he built from scratch during the last few months. Are these things related? I think so.
First, the man is no mechanic. A fine cabinetmaker and all-around handyman, yes. But typically, I can’t even get him to change the oil in my car without nagging. So last fall when he announced he was going to build a vehicle, I was stunned. And skeptical. I kept it to myself of course, after gently asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do, honey? You know how much you hate to work on cars.”
But the “trike” was different—a funky blend of Volkswagen bug and Goldwing motorcycle that resembles a mutant dune buggy with fat tires and cool handle bars. The trike became an obsession. First he brought home the decrepit orange “bug” that would become a fixture in our yard for months. Then he spent hours searching the Internet for information, downloading hundreds of trike pictures in the process. Entire weekends were consumed with trips to Harrisburg and Springfield, tracking down obscure parts and make-shift pieces. Then the long haul began, night after night spent in the garage, step by painful step, putting the thing together.
My husband is not an electrician either, but he mastered the wiring system of a VW and recreated it to make the trike street legal. He also taught himself to weld steel, do extensive bodywork, apply fiberglass, and paint metal. It’s been a tremendous amount of work. I’ve never seen him so happy. Or so obsessed.
Turning 40 isn’t easy. You hear about men buying spendy red sports cars or running off with their secretaries. I’m proud of him for turning his mid-life anxiety into a creative endeavor that the whole family can enjoy. But I’m glad it’s over. The weekly trips to Furrow’s and Knecht’s began to drain our checking account. And I started to think he’d conceived the project just as an excuse to accumulate every tool he ever wanted. (Who really needs a compression gage?)
But I’m mostly anxious to get out on the road. I grew up with motorcycles and have missed the rush of adrenaline that kicks in as you swing your leg over the seat and fire up the motor. I’ll be forty soon enough myself, so I know what he’s been feeling. In fact, I found myself in a tattoo parlor yesterday afternoon having a blue butterfly etched into my calf. How did this happen? my mother and husband both wanted to know.
It was easier than you might think.
The night before, a youngster where I work announced her intention of getting a tattoo, and I was hit with a pang of jealously. I’d wanted one since I was a teenager. But I’d always worried that someday I’d be 40 and cringe at the sight, hearing that nag in my head say, “What in the hell were you thinking?”
But that day was almost here, and so still was the desire. Even the design and color I wanted remained unchanged after 20 some years. When another co-worker, also approaching the big 4-0 said, “Let’s do it,” I thought, why not?
It was a great adventure, a day filled with the same nervous excitement I experience before boarding an airplane—that tumultuous feeling of knowing that when I walked out of there, I would never be exactly the same again. And liking the thought.
Yes, I know, someday I’ll be 60, and possibly I’ll look at my tattoo and shake my head. But I’ll know what I was thinking when I got it. I was thinking that life is short and the thrills are few and far between once mid-life (parentally inspired) maturity sets in. So to hell with convention. Next weekend I’ll throw my tattooed leg over the seat of a trike and ride with the wind.