Thursday, February 3, 2011

Show and Tell

Tattoos are always an interesting topic, and it is curious to see the kinds of reactions they spur. Those reactions are often surprising, and quite frequently, I have found, pleasantly so. Everyone who is inked has their own reasons for getting their tattoos. For me, as with most people I have found, they are largely personal, though there are, of course, those who get them specifically to show off.

I have been thinking about doing a post on my ink for a while now, and was finally kicked into gear by two recent stories I read online.

Geek Mom had a very interesting blog about the subject, and I absolutely adored the image accompanying the post.

Shortly after I saw that, Neil Gaiman posted a blog about seeing a person in the street bearing a tattoo of a quotation from his Sandman series.

You know, once upon a time, I had never considered getting a tattoo. As a high school student, I was (mostly secretly) lusting over a belly button piercing when one day my mom and little sister came home in a sort of huff. Upon inquiring what was wrong, I learned that they had been out to get matching tattoos, but since my sister was under eighteen, the shop wouldn't ink her. They also apparently refused to believe that my mom was actually her mother. Looking young runs in our family, what can I say. So they didn't get tattoos (that day).

After commiserating a bit with them, a realization then dawned on me. Why hadn't I been invited to the tattoo party? When I asked, they told me they didn't think I would have been interested. Also, looking back, I am sure it was a special bonding thing for the two of them, because they were much closer than I was with either of them at that point. But still, it got me thinking. If they had asked, would I have gone along? I am not sure if I would have or not, but from that point on, the idea of getting a tattoo had been planted in my brain.

What would I get? What kind of image would I permanently want to place on my skin? I felt like it would be something I should definitely think long and hard about. Shortly thereafter, some of my friends tried to get me interested in a game called Magic: The Gathering. You may have heard of it. I bought myself a deck of the cards, and loved looking through them. I read the instruction book several times, and once or twice tried to play, but the game never really caught my interest. I loved looking at the cards though, the drawings were just so fantastical and amazing, and I had never really seen anything like that before. One card in particular caught my eye: the Dragon Whelp. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, this card showed a baby dragon, just hatched, sitting among the shell fragments of his egg. I was a little bit in love with this picture. It was absolutely adorable. It was, I realized, exactly what I wanted for my tattoo. I carried the Dragon Whelp card in my wallet for another three or four years, but that was indeed the first tattoo I ever got.

At the end of my sophomore semester of college, I had finally gotten up the nerve to get it done. I had found a tattoo parlor that had given me a decent price and was clean enough for my liking with an atmosphere that I found comfortable. I gathered up a few friends for moral support, and in I went. I gave the artist my battered and dog-eared copy of the Dragon Whelp card, and when I left the shop, this is what was on my lower right back:

Dragon Whelp (lower right back), inked in 2000.

As far as I was concerned, when I left the tattoo parlor, that was it. I had carried around that picture for years, I was extremely pleased with how it turned out, and a years long quest had been completed. Sure, I had heard people say that tattoos are addictive, but I couldn't imagine why. I mean, it hadn't hurt a lot, but it had hurt. Also, these things take a while to heal, you know, and require maintenance while that happens.

But then, right at the beginning of my senior year of college, a friend of mine was thinking about getting a tattoo of her own. She figured she'd go to the same parlor I had patronized, and asked if I wanted to go with her to look at designs. My then best friend (who is now my husband) teased me that I was totally coming back with a tattoo. I told him not to be ridiculous, I was just serving as moral support. Yet somehow, I left the shop with this beauty:

Guardian Dragons (left shoulder blade), inked in 2001.

This was my first and only impulse tattoo. I really hadn't intended on getting one that day, but as we were looking at the stock art (this is also my only stock art tattoo), this design just called to me. The price was right, the shop was slow, and I was newly twenty-one and still feeling the urge to celebrate. So under the needle I went once more.

My senior year of college was actually a rather tumultuous one, especially the final semester. I graduated quite uncertain of where my future was headed. The plans I had made for myself and worked for over the previous years had all seemed to fall apart. I knew that I had accomplished something great, and knew that unseen opportunities would be waiting down the road, but more than anything I just felt weary and glad to be done. I also felt it was an event that needed to be commemorated, the kind of thing I wanted a permanent reminder of--so I decided to get a third tattoo.

I wanted it serve as a reminder, so for this tattoo I chose a location where I could see it every day, on the inside of my left wrist. It is the top tattoo pictured below.

Death's Ankh (left wrist) inked in 2002, Earth Glyph (left wrist) inked in 2007.

My still then best friend (now husband) had introduced me to the awesomeness of Neil Gaiman by the cunning trick of getting me to read his Sandman graphic novel series. I of course fell in love with them, and the character of Death particularly resonated with me at that time. As an anthropomorphic representation of death itself, she was simultaneously feared, hated, run from, prayed for, and embraced throughout the world. She had a heavy burden to bear, but she bore it all with grace and with a quirky chipper attitude. She had a line in one of the books that to this day is one of my personal inspirational quotes:

"You got what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime."

It is a simple line, and I suppose to some it may seem a bit dire. But to me, it embraces an eternal truth. No matter what you believe happens to us after we die, I think it is universally agreed upon that while we are living our current life, that is the only life we know. It is, to me, a reminder to make the most of what you have, because this is all you get. 

Gaiman's Death was almost always depicted with two bits of ornament--an ankh necklace, and a little curlicue drawn with eyeliner in the corner of one eye. So for my tattoo inspired by Death (to remind me to live my life to the fullest), I designed an ankh embellished with a curlicue on one of the crossbars. This is probably still my favorite tattoo, by the way. When it healed, some of the ink got a little cloudy (black is so hard to get solid on the first try), and I probably should have gotten it touched up years ago. I haven't though, because I love the cloudiness, I think it adds to what the message of that tattoo is for me--that life is full of uncertainty, and that is okay.

(I know there are two tattoos in that picture, but as I am doing this in order, we'll come back to the second in a bit.)

My first three tattoos were all done at the same place, but on the fourth one I diverged. I had been feeling like I wanted another dragon tattoo (can you tell that I like dragons yet?), and had been watching some of my Lord of the Rings dvds and had noticed the really cool image of Smaug (from The Hobbit) on a map that Frodo pulls out at some point early in the movie. I was trying to find that image, but never did, alas. However, I did find another graphic of Smaug that I really liked and ended up choosing that.

My not-quite-yet hubby and I were sharing a house with a third roommate, and his brother was trying to start his own career as a tattoo artist. I had mentioned I was thinking of getting new ink and showed him the design, and he offered to do it for free if I paid for the ink. The ink kit he wanted only ran me about $25, and after assurances that all would be extremely sterile, I agreed to that route. So I got tattoo number four sitting in my living room watching Angel with two of my best friends. Yes, it was a homemade tattoo gun, and yes, that can be risky, but believe you me, I made sure everything was in proper order before going through with this.

I have to say, I am really happy with how it turned out, too.

Smaug (right ankle) inked in 2004.

And yes, I know, if this is Smaug, he should be red, but you know what, blue and green are my favorite colors, so that's what I went with. I know it is Smaug, I am not worried about other people knowing that as well, they can see it's an awesome dragon.

After this, I went for quite a while before getting more ink. But I was unable to resist the urge forever, and eventually caved in. For our second anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to St. Louis, where I had spent the bulk of my childhood and adolescence. I decided that my "souvenir" from the trip would be a new tattoo. I did some research and found a really cool tattoo parlor, and then I started thinking up a design. I settled on one that would proclaim my geek/nerd status to the world. I chose the point of origin glyph for Earth from the Stargate series. I decided to get it in a sea-green color because I felt that most appropriately proclaimed my love for Stargate Atlantis above all other Stargate series. It is on the same wrist as my ankh and pictured above.

I have to say, the parlor that I got that tattoo at was definitely my favorite out of all of the ink shops I have visited. The atmosphere was just a little bit punk rock in the best way, the people were friendly. Rather than look at me sideways when I showed him my design of choice, the guy applauded my pride in my geek status, and another guy there recognized the symbol. This is probably the biggest conversation starter of any of my tattoos, as well. Being on my wrist, it is highly visible, and people often ask what the symbol means. They usually get more of an answer than they were looking for, but, well, they asked.

(Don't feel too bad for my husband by the way. His "souvenir" from that trip was a vintage Italia electric bass.)

In the summer of 2008, my husband and I suffered a loss that hit me extremely hard. I came very close to falling into a deep depression because of it, and I knew I needed to do something to remind myself that I am actually a happy person, and that there was still a lot in life to be happy about.

Much like with my ankh, I decided to get a tattoo to serve as a reminder, both of the event that had occurred, and as a reminder to look for the happiness that is always within reach if I am willing to stretch out my hand. I looked into my own pool of sure-fire instant pick-me-ups and settled on the character of Gir from the show Invader Zim. Gir makes me go into fits of squee every time I see him, be it onscreen, on a t-shirt, in the store, you name it. He seemed appropriate.

So now he hangs out on my right shoulder, looking out for me, and cheering me up.

Gir (right shoulder) inked in 2008.

Now we come to my final tattoo. This one is also a commemorative piece of ink. I got it last summer on my birthday, my 30th birthday in fact. I feel it is wholly appropriate:

Don't Panic (right wrist) inked in 2010.

The phrase of course comes from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams' timeless advice never seemed more apt than when I was staring thirty in the face. It took me a while to settle on just the right "large and friendly" letters, but I am very, very happy with how it came out. If you cannot tell, the "O" in don't is a hitchhiker's thumb imposed over a ringed planet, which is a graphic often used to represent the book.

I have definitely come a long way from that day in high school when I first realized I would consider getting a tattoo, to now having seven of them, along with aspirations for more. I can tell you this, over a decade after my first ink, I don't regret a single one. I am not worried about what they will look like when I am old and sagging in unmentionable places, because I will know exactly what they are supposed to be.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I did get my belly button pierced. Spring semester, freshman year. I kept that in for a decade too, until my husband and I started trying for kids.