Tattoos like mile markers

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Today is my last day of being 28. Rather than bore you and myself with yet another post about how I have accomplished nothing, I thought I'd take you back on a little trip through my tattoos. Ani has a line that says "tattoos like mile markers/mark the distance she has come/winning some/losing some" and it's my favorite thing written about tats ever. That is exactly how I see my tattoos. They are not all things I would choose now, but they represent who I was at the time I got them, and I think it's healthy to look at myself that way--not just as who I am right now, but as the sum of everyone I've been. I plan to keep getting tattoos at regular (or irregular) intervals, keep putting up those mile markers, if for no other reason than to create a living map through my life.

tat #1Freedom: The Tramp Stamp
I got my first tattoo when I was 19, in October of 1998. I thought about it for a long, long time first, and my friend Howell, who drew the design, when through months of iterations of it before I chose this one. I chose the artist pretty randomly, though, by the name of the tattoo shop (Medusa Tattoo & Gallery in downtown Portland). It was important to me to have a woman do the work, and to have it done somewhere clean, but other than that, I had no real idea about qualifications. Two of my friends, an old one from high school and a new one from college, went with me to watch me get it done (interestingly, as far as I know, neither of them have ever been tattooed).

I originally wanted the tattoo to be much smaller than it is, and the artist who did it (whose name totally escapes me now) warned me that I would end up regretting if it was too small and looked like a stamp or a sticker. I allowed her to enlarge the design (and I now know she was right and it is still too small). At the time, I had never heard the term "tramp stamp" and had no idea that was what I was getting. Ha. The process itself was very painful (particularly the bottom of the tattoo, which is directly on the end of my spine and sent shocking pain down into my feet) and I didn't enjoy it at all.

At the time, I insisted that this tattoo was merely decorative and symbolized absolutely nothing. Looking back, I can see that the design itself may not symbolize anything, but my getting it, and getting it in the location I did (where it is easily hideable now, but wasn't so much in those days of baby tees and baggy pants) wasn't accidental. A year into college, I was still savoring my freedom and my ability to do whatever I wanted with my own body and my own life. Though tats were popular then, they weren't nearly so common as they are now, and getting it felt a little bit rebellious, but getting it small and in a "girly" spot kept me feeling safe, too.

I have a vague plan to get this tattoo expanded into a full lower back piece, because I really don't like having a tramp stamp now that every other sorority girl on the block has one. Then again, though, having it in the place and size it is already in is true to the 19 year old me who got it.

tat #2.jpgLove: The Hedwig Tattoo
After my first tat, it took me several years to decide on another one. Finally, in the early summer of 2003, when I was 22, I decided to get one of Emily Hubley's illustrations from the film Hedwig & the Angry Inch tattooed on my inner left ankle. The thought behind the tat was two-part: first, I loved the play and the movie and considered it (and still do consider it) to be the only anthem befitting my generation of fuck ups. Secondly, the image itself, and the myth it illustrates in the movie (told in the song "Origin of Love") speaks to the idea of having "another half," a partner who will complete you if only you find him or her. I have never 100% bought into that idea, but in 2003 I was still in the dramatic stages of new love, and it seemed the best way to symbolize that. And so my Origin of Love tat has one green eye like me, and one brown eye like Mark.

The tattooing experience itself was sub-par my second time around. I went back to Medusa, but this time had the work done by a different artist there, a woman named Fish. As you can see, she did a lousy job. The lines in this simple tat are uneven and it looks very unprofessional. She was also just not very nice. However, getting this tattoo was also my first experience with the erotic aspect of tattoo pain, which wasn't something I have ever forgotten. Mark came with me when I got it, as did our friend and housemate Erica (whose had I had just held as she got her first tattoo at the same shop some months earlier).

It sucks that this tattoo isn't done better, but I am still sort of resistant to getting it fixed or covered. Once again, it takes me back to a time in my life I remember so clearly, a set of thoughts and feelings I can access only through memory, and I don't want to disrupt that. I'm more in love with Mark now than I was in 2003, for sure, but it's a different, more mature kind of thing, and the more grown up me finds the concept of an "other half" not only amusing, but sort of insulting. I like that the tat reminds me that I used to be more romantic, if less assured, and so it stays, in all of it immature glory (I was once asked if I got it done in prison--no joke).

tat #3.jpgPeace: The Dove
My third tattoo is the only one I would get exactly the same way again. I'm not sure whether this speaks more to the quality of the work or to how much more slowly I am changing than I used to. I got it in December of 2005, when I was 26. It was something I thought about for quite a while first. I wanted to get something permanent on my body to attest to my commitment to peace in a time when war seemed to be coming in from all sides, and the image of Picasso's Dove with Flowers stuck in my mind as the simplest and most beautiful way to symbolize that commitment. In 2005, I had given up on my plans to be a public servant or non profit martyr professionally, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still committed to the world around me, even if I was no longer willing to spend my life in (under)paid professional work towards that commitment. I also wanted my country to get the hell out of Iraq.

Much as I loved the image, I also found it "pretty" and was a bit resistant to it on that front, as I've always kind of disliked pretty tattoos on women. To counteract the "femininity," I decided I wanted to put the tat somewhere less traditionally feminine than my previous ankle and lower back choices, and somewhere more visible. That's why I chose my upper arm (I had originally considered my shoulder blade and rejected it on this basis). I decided to do it on the right arm to balance with my left side ankle tat. Once I'd decided on placement, I shopped for an artist. I wanted to be a bit more careful than I had been before, since this tattoo was going to be so noticeable on my arm. On someone's recommendation, I went in to Atomic Tattoo & Piercing on Burnet in Austin to talk to someone there about doing it, and I chanced upon Jason Masarik. The shop itself made me very uncomfortable, with it's walls of pin-up clip-art style tattoo designs and (then) all-male staff, and it definitely made me realize that Medusa is an "upscale" tattoo parlor, but Jason himself made me instantly comfortable. He recognized the image, and we talked about Picasso as he was getting stuff ready. I may not dig his style of artwork (based as it is on monsters and large-breasted women), but I recognized him as an artist, and that put me at ease.

I got this tattoo alone, and without telling anyone I was going to do it before I did it. It felt empowering. The pain was both bearable and pointedly erotic. And the result is, I think, phenomenal. I rarely go out in public without sleeves and don't get a compliment on this tattoo. Because the color has remained vibrant and the lines look very much like pen or brush strokes, people often don't believe it isn't drawn on but is permanent. Even my mother likes it. It's that good.

tat #4.jpgHome: Alis Volat Prop(r)iis
I have wanted to get a tattoo symbolizing Oregon, my homesickness, and my identity as an Oregonian for several years. I've been through lots of ideas--raindrops, fir trees, etc.--and nothing has felt right. Recently, I decided that the best idea I'd had to symbolize my home state was its motto, "Alis Volat Propriis," or "She Flies On Her Own Wings." On a bit of a whim, on Monday I went in to Atomic to see if I could get someone to do it for me. I wasn't set on Jason, since the tattoo idea was so basic, but he was there and available, so he set right up and did it in just a few minutes.

And lo and behold, it is spelled wrong. The original stencil, which I checked, was spelled correctly. How that correctly spelled stencil dropped at "r" when it was applied to my foot I will never know. And I didn't notice it while I was being tattooed, as it is upside down from my vantage point. When I got home and took a picture of it, though, it became clear.

Honestly, I think it's funny. I am going to get it fixed, because having a misspelled tattoo will definitely annoy me after awhile, but I think it probably serves my pretentious non-Latin speaking ass right for getting a tattoo in Latin. In the meantime, I think it looks great--I love the lettering and the placement on my foot--and nobody is going to notice the misspelling unless I tell them (which, because I think it's funny, I probably will).

I have ideas for several more tattoo mile markers in my head. Large pieces are in vague stages of planning. I want "Chance" tattooed in white somewhere (possibly my inner wrist). I will definitely be getting a Texas-symbolizing tattoo, and it may even be the stereotypical Lone Star. We'll see. In the meantime, I can use the ones I have to trace the path I've come, and I don't regret a thing.

10 Comments

Why in white?

I love the dove - it's too rare to see people go for tattoes completely free of black, but they're so much more striking.

The Hedwig is one of the few images I would consider having tattooed on my body, but likely only if I split the two halves between fiancee and I - and she's not much of a Hedwig fan.

I have to agree with your tattoo philosophy 100%. I think it's important to commemorate the idiot or genius you were at various stages of your life.

Not that I have any tattoos, or anything. Ha!

I want a tattoo, for a very similar reason. Life leaves so many marks on your body, I like the idea of getting to choose one (or more) of them. I`ve been stopped by an inability to pick something significant.

You've seen Cody's white tattoos, right?

Fantastic tattoos, I love hearing the stories behind each one. I especially like the dove, that's a real work of art.

Happy birthday!

I love your tat philosophy and I remember the discussions before you got the dove done but i never saw a pic of it. It great. I also have a tatoo on my foot and inner wrist is my next choice if i ever decide what i want to put there.

sorry to bother you,but did u fixed that tattoo on your foot?i have the same problem,i didn't notice misspelling and don't know what to do now. :(

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