You got what? Where is it? Can I see? Wow, that is really big but it’s pretty. Did it hurt a lot?
This is the standard conversation I have whenever I tell someone about my tattoo. I’m not talking about a little piece of flash, I’m talking about a custom piece of art that I designed, along with a very talented tattoo artist at Sacred Heart in Vancouver, BC and had permanently inked onto my body. The answers are yes, I got a tattoo. It starts on my left shoulder and curves around my body, finishing up under (and partly on) my left breast. Ouch, yes that bit was nasty. And yes, I can show you it, or at least part of it, otherwise I would end up naked in this public place. Yes, it’s big and yes, it’s very pretty. I designed it myself – I didn’t want a skull or a rose or some block of blue ink – I wanted something unique and beautiful that meant a lot to me. Every piece of it is symbolic to me. It’s 8 hours of work and yes, it hurt a lot.
For those of you who don’t have any ink work, let me just clear this up once and for all. TATTOOS HURT, they hurt a lot. It’s part of the process. Reputable tattoo artists don’t use EMLA cream or anything similar and they prefer that you not take anything at all for pain (legal or otherwise). The tattoo artist I work with said that pain is part of the aesthetic experience and that chemicals of any kind change the reaction of your skin to the needles and the way the ink takes. So I went commando for mine. All 8 hours, over 4 months. And I wouldn’t have done anything different.
If you happen to be a rock star (or an aspiring one) or live a wonderfully alternative lifestyle, tattoos and piercings are common, if not de rigueur. They have become a right of passage and acceptance. But in my circles, it’s not common – like not at all. The names of favourite artists are not traded by the side of the soccer field and new ink work is not part of any show and tell that I’ve been at. And I’ve noticed that body art and piercings are way more acceptable in the Pacific Northwest (thank you Kirk Cobain) than they are in the East – although I think it’s also a growing phenomenon “back there”, but still much less common. And if in addition you work in the very conservative world of investment banking, they are simply not done. I have seen at least one instance when an indiscreetly revealed tattoo (it was a tiny symbol on the wrist) was the difference between someone landing a job and not.
So why did I decide, about 2 years ago, to go out and get inked in a big way? The simple answer is that I’ve always loved tattoos; I’ve admired them on other people and always wanted one. I think they are hot.
But having given it quite a bit more thought, I realize now that there are also other reasons. The obvious one is rebellion . . . and don’t we all like to think of ourselves as rebels from time to time. Since the theme of my blog is, in many ways, rebellion, that one was obvious even to me. I do know quite a few people who, upon reaching a certain age, or certain place in their lives, go out and get a piece of flash done. For the uninitiated, flash is the term for those designs/symbols/images that tattoo shops have up on their walls, or in books, that you can just walk in and pick out to have done in short order, fortified by a friend and maybe a couple of shots of Senor Patron.
There is a world of difference between a piece of flash and tattoo art, which takes time to both conceive and execute. My design took me about a year to think up and locate images of what I wanted, then another month or so for the artist to complete the drawings. Then each session took 2 hours, one a month for four months because it hurts too freaking much to do all at once and you have to heal between sessions. Riding the bus home from the tattooing sessions is always very surreal, feeling both drained and exhilarated. It’s heady and, I fear, somewhat addictive.
Ownership is the other reason I got inked. Ownership of my own body. I was at a point in my life where I didn’t feel I owed the duty of my body to anyone, and that had been a long time coming. So to stake my claim I did something that would have previously been impossible. It was heady, liberating, empowering. And now every day when I stand at the mirror, I can look at the visible symbol of my self-determination and I LOVE IT.
And I have realized that as I am pushing the boundaries of my “outside the lines” adventure, my ink work has become in some ways the visible roadmap of my experiences. Not obvious, not seen by the casual observer, but rich with symbol and meaning for me. And if anyone gets close enough to see the whole work, they better like it! I’m currently working on a design for a new piece to be worked in – I’m not quite there yet and it’s not a process to be rushed. But I hope to have something new to add soon and more in the months ahead.
In heavy rotation: Saw a crazy good local Vancouver band Incura last week – one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time, with about 100 people in a tiny club. They rocked it. And being in a poetic frame of mind, I’ve been listening to a lot of Third Eye Blind, Stephen Jenkins is one of the finest lyricists around and I’m loving “Motorcycle Driveby” right now.
Printed Word: Still working on Blink, but I pulled out to read again my favourite poem – must have been the 3eB influence. I think these are some of the most beautiful lines in the English language:
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
“When You Are Old” by W.B Yeats.