Really? It’s Permanent?
I can’t believe I am going to type this next sentence. I got a tattoo today. And I’m not sure how i feel about it. I mean, when it was happening, my friends were there and they were stroking my hand and patting my back and telling me to breathe and taking pictures of my grimacing face, and smiling like jackals and asking how i felt and wasn’t i excited and had i thought of my next one yet… And now that it’s over… I’m not feeling how I thought I would. It’s got a lot to do with how the design was arrived at. It happened just a few hours ago. I’m looking down at the bandage and I don’t even know what this all means. I’m going to wake up tomorrow, and the next day and the next day, and there is going to be black ink on the inside of my left arm. Forever. My partner, who also got one today with those same friends, said to me when we got home, “Our tough points just went up by, like, ten”.
Is that what this is? A sign of my toughness? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I like the tattoo that much anymore. It was spontaneous and ordeal-producing and, well, now it’s going to be on me for the rest of my life. Am i the kind of person who gets tattoos? I never thought I was. I have always loved them on other people. But me? Really? On my skin? My skin that, frankly, I have always really liked plain and clean? My arm skin that tans so beautifully, despite my Eastern European DNA? Permanently? A piercing I can take out (and i have. Over the years, I have taken the jewelry out 7 of my former 11 earring piercings and now there are just little dimples on my earlobes where the holes used to be) But a tattoo? There’s no going back.
I just never considered myself a tattoo person. I mean, EVERYone has one, right? Most people I know do. I was one of the only people who didn’t. I kind of liked that. Is this as simple as me being sad that I am one step closer to being like everyone else? Or is this really major, some sort of milestone, some coming of age- which is what a tattoo is supposed to represent anyway- that i am resisting?
I mean, civilizations the world over have painted themselves in ceremony. Why the hell should i exclude myself? To be fair, the Amazonians don’t have to show up to work on Monday to reconcile the books and discuss the budget like I do. But is that what this is really about? That i would offend some stuffed shirt with my body art? I was holding this no-tattoo policy in protest of all the tattooed folks who thought they were being hipper than thou. Am i now hip? I don’t really think so.
Here is what my tattoo is: it’s five letters, in circles. The circles are the round keys of a Royal typewriter, circa 1930. My tattoo says “WRITE”.
I wanted that tattoo to remind me to write more, to consider myself a writer, and to act like one. I imagined that it would be a great motivator when i had, for instance, just about run out of juice, or felt that everything i had written up until that point was shit and not worth printing. I would look down at my wrists paused above the keyboard, and then my arms, and I would read what it said there on my forearm….and keep on going. It was to serve as a reminder to take myself seriously, to DO SOMETHING with this “thing i do”.
How incredibly pompous, huh? I mean, really. Why not just ink the grocery list on your bicep so that when you are in the store you can catch your reflection in the produce scale and remember to buy more cantaloupe? How bad am I at remembering my true calling that I need to have a permanent black scar on my arm to remind me?
The truth is, I do need it. But let me tell you about how this all went down.
We went to a play, four of us. It was last night. When the play let out, it was still light outside, and we weren’t ready for going home yet. My best friend, eyes wild, suggests we all go get tattoos, and her fiance nods in zealous agreement, leaning forward onto the middle console. My partner and I look at each other. “Really?” we ask. Best friend is serious. Fiance is serious. I am nervous and giddy. Yes, we say. And we go on the hunt for a tattoo shop.
They all come up with their ideas quickly. I deliberate. It should be significant. It’s my first tattoo. It should be cool, and original, and mean something to me. I have thought about this reminder I want to put on my arm for some time. The idea is simple enough: It’s got to be a typewriter. A picture of a typewriter. The one i learned to type on: an old Royal typewriter, a model probably used during WWII. The one my grandfather fished out of the trash in Newark and refurbished and plunked down, hard and heavy and smelling of metal and oil, in our playroom when we were children. The one my brother and I used to create a fake newspaper and crank out stories. I would write and he would illustrate. Later on, he would dictate the story of Mu-Shu the imaginary rabbit, and my fingers would hammer out his words as fast as they could. We would play bank, and office, and school, and we would use that typewriter for everything. It would soon jam, and the ‘e’s and ‘o’s had their hollow parts filled in with ink and dirt, and the red side of the ribbon would soon be smudged with black as we discovered that, in addition to being a word-making machine, it was also a percussive instrument. The harder you typed, the more satisfying a slap the hammers would make on the typing paper. Typing paper. No one makes typing paper anymore. For years I had saved the last bit of the ream from my childhood… moved across the country with it… and just recently used it up. Time to let go, I told myself.
There were thousands upon thousands of markings on the rubber cylinder of the return carriage. Someone before us had discovered the pleasure in typing without paper and leaving a mark on the cylinder in a grey-green-yellow ghost font. I used to wonder how many letters had been written to officers in far away countries with that rubber cylinder cushioning each tiny blow from the metal arms deep inside…
And now there is this command on my arm, this command I cannot erase. It’s there. It’s to direct me, to remind me.
But I wish it had come with more euphoria. The tattoo artist was not eager to put the silhouette of an old typewriter on my arm. It would blur, he said, in a few years, and turn into a shapeless blob. Well, then what about close ups of the hammers? Nope. The picture I brought in was not clear enough. Defeated, I chose the keys with the word WRITE. A command, a DEMAND, really. Nothing enigmatic or cryptic or symbolic like i wanted. No memorial to my talented and thoughtful grandfather. No thankful tribute to the machine that had taught me to type. No archival museum for antiquated, funny looking machinery. Just five letters, looking up at me and reminding me that every moment spent not writing is time not well spent. What was I thinking?
I wasn’t. I had stomach cramps from macaroni and cheese. I was on the brink of getting my period and my lower half was churning and achy. I was probably dehydrated. I was caught up in the moment. I was excited to mark myself in honor of the decision made amongst really really good friends to be spontaneous, to celebrate our lives together.
And i know this is a GREAT BIG metaphor for the writing process- the denial, the self flagellation, the acceptance, the celebration…. and that makes me even more cranky.
I will probably learn to love it. I don’t know that i will learn to love that razor blade pain, though. So maybe this will be my last. And if it is, that will be okay. Really. I have the rest of my skin to love.