When I was 18 I got my first tattoo: a small picture of Pookie, Garfield's teddy bear, on my lower back. It had meaning then, none of which still applies to me or my life, but Pookie introduced me to the addictive process of tattooing. As of May 2017, I had seven tattoos. One of them had been touched up, so I'd been through the inking process a total of eight times. As I write this, that number has gone up to thirteen sessions, and in a few weeks I'll add one more. You see, a couple of months ago my artist, Nicole McCord at Revival Art Collective, and I embarked on my largest piece. One with a lot of personal meaning behind it.
I posted on social media that I was about to get a new tat and more than one person asked, "How can you choose to mar your body?" "Why?" "Don't you have enough?" "Shouldn't you save your money for things that matter?" One friend even went so far as to call tattoos "stains" with all the derision that could possibly be packed into that word.
A stain? Technically, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are all stains, they're just planned and well-executed stains. And so is my ink. While in the past I might have gotten a piece done on a whim, this particular piece has been planned, plotted, schemed, rethought and reimagined several times before I even went to Nicole and said, "Draw me like one of your dripping hellmaidens."
I've talked before about the why.... why I enjoy tattoos and the process of being tattooed. You can't go back to what you were. Sure you can cover up or laser away the art, but even then there is something different. A faint scar or a new piece. You are irrevocably changed, and there's something both liberating and invigorating about consciously making the choice to undergo that transformation.
The process--the actual inking with the needles buzzing, and yes, the pain--is intense. You're in a position of in between. You're not what you were, but you're not what you will be. And during that time, you are enduring pain and fear mixed with excitement and adrenaline. It's a primal thing, really. And spiritual in a way. It's not about the pain. Far from it. But the pain is part of the greater process of change and creation. All of my tattoos have some meaning. They are all a story, a visual reminder of the ups and downs of my life. Like rings on a tree, these symbols and "stains" are a map of where I've been and what I hold sacred.
In this latest piece, I've chosen to cover up Pookie with an inkwell. One of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare is, "I am the author of myself". This tattoo speaks to that, as well as my unending appreciation for fire and phoenix imagery. It is from my past that I create the ink with which I will write my story. Along with this is a large phoenix feather quill, drawing the swirls and chaotic lines of a gorgeous phoenix. Nicole has done an amazing job conveying these concepts and laying them into my skin.
For me, this most recent tattoo has a new layer of importance.
Anyone who reads this or follows my social media knows that I struggle with body image issues. I have since I was a kid. I remember being on diets in first grade. Except for the period of time when I was pregnant, my stomach has always been something I wanted to hide and hate. I've purposely chosen to tattoo my right flank. My rolls, my ribs, my back fat, my stretch marks and scars are now covered with color and beauty. Furthermore, I have to nurture this part of my body and give it particular care during the healing process. I have to cover it daily, gently and tenderly, with salve so that it will heal well. And that means that I have to treat this piece of me with utmost care, this part of body that has been such a point of shame. Not only have I made it something I cannot help but call beautiful, I have tricked myself into caring about it and being kind to it.
And it's worked.
The day after the first session, I caught a glimpse of it as I passed a mirror and was shocked and how lovely the curve of the lines were, how they rolled over my hip in such a decorative way. The more work that goes into this piece, the more I love it.
Today, it hurts like a bitch, but it's almost done. We've put in about 16 hours of work on it over the course of four sessions. One more should see it finished, with a probable touch up session after that. It's a lot of pain, it's a lot of salve, and not everyone understands why.... why go through the pain and the itching and the not being able to wear a bra (oh shucks) and and and....
Because at the end of the day, I am art. With or without the ink, I am--we all are--fleeting pieces of art, beautiful not because we last but because of what we do while we're here.