Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Permanent Record

My first tattoo was done by a friend of a friend as part of his apprenticeship. I sat in a chair in his living room staring at the far wall while he stabbed my chest with an inked needle over and over. It was a fairly basic tattoo of my own design, an ankh inside a pentacle, and he commented some surprise that I was able to sit so still getting my first tattoo in one of the more painful locations for a guy. If he only knew. I was twenty six and had, by that time, elevated stoicism to an art form. In that particular year, he may have been able to use a bandsaw without eliciting any larger response.

An ankh inside a pentacle. A symbol of life inside a symbol of protection. I won’t explain that one to you. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Suffice it to say, my first tattoo was a protective device acquired during the height of my stoic period. That was not a good time period, though it was useful. It established my love of meaningful ink, and inspired the use of protective tattoos in my first novel. In fact, there is a conversation about protective tattoos in that novel that actually happened almost word-for-word between Heather and me at one point after she noticed the trend.

And it would become a trend.

Beginning with my second tattoo, I embarked upon a larger project. I can’t remember right now if that was the original plan, but it became the plan quickly enough. I went to Black Pearl in Centralia, Washington (where I was living at the time) because Adrian had the best reputation in town, and it was a well-earned reputation. When conversing with your tattoo artist while she inks the back of your neck, right over your spine, is the only reason you’re not falling asleep during the tattoo, someone has a very deft hand with the needle gun.

I wanted an Udjat (Eye of Horus, the All Seeing Eye) inside a tribal design that would anchor at the base of my neck and flair out toward the shoulders. We found a likely looking Udjat design and then Adrian drew out the tribal design by hand. This too would become a trend. The only stencils we ever used were the ones we created at the time of inking.

Over time, we extended the tribal pattern out into wings over the shoulder blades, and cemented the tradition of injecting symbols into each new section of tribal design. I went with Kanji for this section, placing the word Truth over the left shoulder blade, and the word Justice over the right shoulder blade.

My back piece now contained three of the most important ideas to what was becoming the central theme of my worldview: knowledge, truth, and justice. Learn all you can, be honest in your application of knowledge, and use that to always strive for doing the right thing. Everything else, in my opinion, flows from these three ideas. That thought has evolved over the years, becoming more intuitive in some areas and more formal in others, but the basic idea that started with those three symbols would go on to reshape my life.

I was not done with the reshaping though, or even with that particular tattoo project.

Next the tribal pattern wrapped around the shoulders. This time Adrian drew out the design for one shoulder and then we kept that drawing, flipped it, and used the mirror image for the other shoulder. On the left shoulder we put a compass rose as a reminder to not get lost in this crazy world, and on the right shoulder we put the awen, a Welsh symbol of poetic inspiration and creativity. You could call that a reminder of how I don’t get lost. When I brought the awen design to Adrian, she asked me what that one was. She hadn’t seen it before. I summed it up as “poetic inspiration or divine madness.” She smiled and thought that was a pretty good idea for creative types.

I haven’t been able to add to that project for a while, but I am not finished with it. The tribal pattern will continue as sleeves, and I have some fairly detailed symbolism ideas to go into it, but they won’t be cheap, so they’ll take time. Since I don’t live in Washington anymore, I will need to find a new artist to work with. If you know ink then you know what a daunting prospect that can be. Finding the right artist to begin a major project is hard enough. Finding the right artist to continue a major project when you can no longer go to the one you had developed such a rapport with is an altogether different monster. I’ve talked to people off and on since moving to Phoenix, getting ideas and collecting recommendations. We’ll see.

In fact, hopefully we’ll be seeing very soon.

My next tattoo is not part of that project, but it is still part of my trend toward tattoos with meaning. Since it has been a few years since my last ink, I wanted to get back in (and test my link with a new artist) with something smaller. At the same time, though, I wanted to be something huge in all but physical size. From the moment I first found out about Project Semicolon, and especially with the timing of learning about that project right after I had begun my own Frequently Interrupted project, I knew that I wanted something with that semicolon idea. I also knew, though, that I could not simply get a semicolon. That’s not me. When it comes to tattoos, I just don’t do simple. I saw some good ideas out there (I particularly like the one that turned the semicolon into a butterfly - very meaningful), but they also weren’t me. I needed something that was more mine.

In keeping with my habit of combining and merging symbols, I came up with the basic idea of the Frequently Interrupted logo. I would use two semicolons, inverted to form a yin and yang, placed inside a Japanese enso, a Zen symbol of enlightened imperfection. This would be my reminder that life goes on, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, and that light cannot exist without darkness. I went to the FI community with my basic idea (since I can’t draw convincing stick figures), and received a number of good ideas. As the final logo, I selected the one we now usually use as our Facebook profile picture (Thank you Debbie), and have been planning the new tattoo since that selection.

Well, the planning is complete. As you can see from the picture above, the tattoo is now complete as well. Heather set this up as my birthday present, and we went to the new Club Tattoo location in Scottsdale, AZ. It's a wonderful location, by the way, and I definitely recommend paying them a visit if you're in the area (and no, I am not getting a referral or any kind of kickback for this mention). Runa took care of me, and did the amazing job you can see above. We chatted about this and that the entire time, and I realized how much I have missed this process. We are already talking to Runa about adding to the larger project, and I can't wait. I'll keep you informed as things keep going.

I will probably do some tattoos just for fun at some point. I do have tentative plans for at least one dragon, a couple comic book characters, and a few other nerdy possibilities. To tell the truth, though, those will probably end up having some meaning embedded too because tattoos are a permanent record of who we are, and a large part of who I am is someone who spends a lot of time thinking about meanings and symbols. I’m comfortable with that, and I usually enjoy the results. I hope you do as well.

Thank you for being part of my meaning, and I hope that I am a good part of yours. We’ll figure out this journey together. That is the whole point, after all.

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