I have family members that loathe the looks of permanent ink — particularly on their first born. Assuming it tarnishes the purity of flesh they used to pinch, smooch, and squeeze.
Tattoos illustrations on a canvas foreign to all of us. A meat suit we were placed in — and told to love. To treat with kindness, and support; faced with a defiant environment that’s dedicated to the detriment of our well-being and happiness.The human body is the cover to a book that’s still being written — and always under revision.
Humans have been permanently illustrating their journeys since 2000 B.C.E., including records of mummified remains reported with ink. The process was originally practiced by Japanese and Polynesian amateurs. In 1846, Martin Hildebrandt open the first shop in the US, introducing tattooing to the American Mainstream.
A German-American immigrant, Hildebrandt traveled to ink the soldiers of the Civil War, troop by troop. While Maud Wagner — America’s first female tattooist — exchanged a date for a lesson in the artform, in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase state fair. In spite of the recent invention of the modern tattoo machine, Wagner stuck to the traditional stick-poking of her mentor and predecessors.
I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the stylings of Sailor Jerry, and the iconic symbolism his work embodied. A sparrow — which is on the back of my right shoulder — was a symbol of returning home. A symbol sported by soldiers, who’d recently received much awaited “home orders.”
When my aunt — and guardian angel — left us, she was permanently tattooed with ink as vibrant, feminine, and warm as she was. Coupled with a pair of pink gerber daisies. The flower I bought for Mama B — her best friend — while debilitating chronic pain, and near paralysis, gave her “home orders,” that lasted 6 years.
My aunt — our family’s reminder of hope, and light, even when darkness seems to win — received her home orders when she passed. A soul far too bright for a world stuck in darkness. Now she’s with me everyday. A reminder to believe in magic, love and a promise to never grow up.
Cut to, my consult for a piece that now stops people on the street, for one reason or another. My warrior goddess — a piece that gave me more than a life-long illustration. It left me with a knowing that I had forgotten for far too long.
This piece is my only one tattooed by a women, to date. I arrive at the appointment, eager nervous — sorta have to pee. I give her a hug.
“You ready to meet her?” the imagery of a warrior within myself that had been silenced.
She reveals the stencil. “That’s it. That’s her… my lone wolf, fearless, bad ass fuckin warrior,” and fit like a glove.
The process begins — and to be completely frank so did the beginning of this blog. I remember sitting on the table — anticipating the sting. Preparing for pain, and meditating through the stimulus — a new practice at the time.
The quiver of my quad blows my cover — relaxing isn’t exactly a part of the repertoire.
“If you welcome the pain, it won’t hurt nearly as bad,” she said.
How hard could it be, I thought, you’ve done it seven other times. This session was different.
We get to talking about both of our dementors, whom she referred to as her “friend.” I was stunned by her seemingly effortless ability to master a darkness I had only ever know to fear. She was the warrior that people looked to me to be.
The oldest of five, in a home that took one hell of a tidal wave. A coach to humans to trusted me with their journeys. A lover who feels she could never repay her partner enough for the love she’s received.
It was time for me to start believing the truths that I thought were fables. Labels that made up more of a human than I thought I could be.
“Tattoos are really similar” to dealing with dementors, we agreed. The discomfort, and pain, is going to be there whether your choose to acknowledge it or not. The more you try to fight back, tough it out to silence it, the more attention it demands.
Silence it by being bold enough to embrace darkness, as part of the process. Stand up to the stimulus watch as it’s power dissipates. Pain is a necessary evil. It triggers the most raw of reactions and the truest of truths. With every moment that makes you flinch, squirm or want to call it all together, know you’re one step closer to a beautiful work of art.
Life isn’t watercolor brush strokes — life is the buzz, and bite of a tattoo gun paired with a needle all your own. That no one else will ever know. Sometimes all we notice are the pricks and pokes, and pain they bring. Then you remember that at the end of that need is ink. Driving a bit more color, and detail, to one hell of a masterpiece.
Bring it in, and don’t be afraid. Breathe into — not just through — the discomfort, and relax. It’s not about the finished product. It’s about you, your needle, your body and your artist — present in a moment of time. Illustrating a pages of a book, on the world’s most complex canvas.