Posts Tagged ‘writing about tattoos’

Eye Of The Dragon, Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2009, all photos © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

inky, sweatless pores,
all eyes drawn to the Dragon
keeper of the Grail;
night falls to The Hinterlands —
she is searching for herself.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – TATTOOS, Ink Illuminations, dragon haiku trilogy, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas

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By Katherine Repka*

My boyfriend got a tattoo when we were in Florida. We were leaving Universal Studios with “his and hers” children in tow, our feet aching from a day spent zigzagging through the park to catch the best rides and avoid the longest lines. We spotted the tattoo parlor as we approached the park exit. He said we should just keep going—it was late—but I saw a flash of longing in his eyes as he spoke. I suggested we at least check it out; after all, being from an obscure Canadian town, when would we be near a Hart & Huntington again?

We trudged up the stairs like drones, the glitzy neon sign beckoning with its promise of adventure. As we flipped through endless pages of sample designs, I told him he should go ahead and get one. A tattoo he had “commissioned” years ago, in the back of a Greyhound bus, looked more like an amoeba than a peace sign, and he always talked about replacing it with a more professional image once he could afford to. As it turned out, a little encouragement was all he needed.

While he negotiated his choice with the artist, I continued to browse through the photos of inked flesh, intent on finding a Lily of the Valley design I could display as a symbol of my artistic spirit, my appreciation for simple beauty in nature, and my birth month of October. One of the tattooists, clearly skilled at helping potential customers realize their dreams of entering the world of rebellion, helped me look for images of Lily of the Valley on the internet and explained the cons of using white ink in any tattoo. As I contemplated how to avoid white ink in an image comprised of white flowers, my boyfriend made his way to the table to get his tattoo.

The kids rambled aimlessly about the store. The sugar high from candy used as a bribe to get them through the hour-long wait was wearing off and their faces wore telltale signs of the exhaustion I felt. My window of opportunity to enter the world of nonconformity was rapidly shrinking.

At some point I figured out how to avoid white ink but I could not decide on a location for the emblem of my individuality. I was convinced that in order for any indeliable piece of artwork to enhance rather than disfigure, it had to be located in a spot where it could be tastefully revealed or concealed, a place that would not sag or wrinkle as I aged nor become distorted when I gained or lost weight.

I looked over at my boyfriend. He was fixated on his tattoo artist—herself tattooed and pierced—as she worked at turning the amoeba, unsightly evidence of his decision to trust someone while inebriated, into a symbol of his newfound passion for dirt biking.

Unable to decide on a location for my tat, and after convincing my boyfriend’s five-year-old that the rack of t-shirts and belts was not the ideal place to practice for a career as an international spy, I resigned myself to the knowledge that this was not my night to get inked. I succumbed to the lure of an upholstered vinyl bench near the wall and waited until my boyfriend’s tattoo was finished.

As we made our way to the vehicle, my boyfriend’s eyes sparkled in the moonlight. I could taste the sizzle of exhilaration and excitement that emanated from his pores. The satisfaction on his face was as fierce as the brand he now sported on his ankle. I glanced down at my own feet half expecting to see blocks of cement.

Pangs of envy stabbed at my insides as we walked. I had encouraged him. I had pushed aside my own hope for a tattoo, too concerned for everyone else—concerned that three young children couldn’t possibly endure waiting any longer in an adult oriented environment at the end of a long day, concerned that my boyfriend’s desire should be fulfilled and that he have a memory to tell and retell his friends back home, and concerned that I find just the right tattoo for myself so as not to offend the sensibilities of strangers.

Like a coarse tag on a shirt collar, the envy irritated and scratched. I was sure my boyfriend’s lack of clairvoyance was proof of his lack of insight in to my soul. I questioned my sense of practicality, which suddenly seemed more a yoke than a virtue.

We followed the freeway back to our hotel. The children dozed in the backseat, their heads lolling from side to side as we drove over the grooves in the pavement. My boyfriend gazed ahead, far away in his thoughts. As my own thoughts drifted over the past few hours, days, and months, I began to feel like I was treading water, my feelings of panic and despair accentuated by his assuredness, his distance, his thinly veiled contempt for my insecurity and his attempts to hide his waning love for me with displays of affection that lacked depth or intimacy.

The vacation, filled with fun and activity, had provided us both with some distraction from reality. The hollow space between us, which had once been overflowing with passion and unconditional love, seemed to open up to the lurking shadows. The lights of each passing motorist illuminated a well worn pathway for my self-doubt, beginning in my head and ending in my chest. Clearly, I was not ready to get a tattoo. There was no room for regret when the ink-filled needles pierced the skin.

Katherine Repka (*not her real name) lives in a small northern town in a remote region of British Columbia, Canada. She shares her life with her two children, her boyfriend, two stepchildren, two dogs, and two cats. Katherine, who works for a community college, has recently returned to writing in her spare time.

About her writing, Katherine says: Writing is something that I am beginning to open up to and make space for in my life. I know I have at least one book in me and possibly several other pieces looking for a way out. I have this mass of content all squished up in a ball inside me that I feel I have to unravel somehow.

I have written poetry in the distant past and some short stories when I took a creative writing class years ago in my first year of college, but overall my writing has taken the form of workplace communications and the occasional love letter or journal entry.

Personal writing is a way for me to explore deep feelings and process emotions, but to date none of my writing has made its way to any publishable format. I see this return to writing as a way to do something for the purpose of personal development, something I can do to get in touch with who I am and nurture my spirit.

My goal is to give myself permission to take time to write more than just on an intermittent basis in the hopes that writing will allow me to reach deeper levels of self awareness and give me a an outlet for self expression and creativity.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TATTOOS

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What I know about tattoos I learned from D___. His entire right leg was tattooed, and most of his left leg. Both shoulders, all around his neck, most of both arms. His tattoos were serpents and Japanese letters and blues and purples, some red, beautiful tattoos, and I would examine them, lifting his leg while he lay on his back.

I wanted to get tattoos, but the desire hit me late, after I knew my body was mine to adorn for my pleasure. I wanted Our Lady of Guadalupe on my bicep, like Catholic sailors, except my bicep wasn’t big enough to hold her holy glory, plus I worried that her golden rays would droop as I got old.

But when I wanted tattoos I was firm, late 30s, after I’d had Dee and Em and knew that I could do things like birth babies on the bathroom floor or crouching like a tiger in my bedroom.

Why then, no tattoos? Mid-life crisis-y, that’s what I told myself. How desperate, how too-little-too-late. If I got tattoos, I’d want to be like D___, 1/3 of my body covered (by now probably the images creep up around his ears and chin like ivy crawling up a tree).

I’d want to paint myself in excess, or like piercings, be one of those people who start with a second hole in each ear, then add a small gauge. Then my lip and the spot above my eyebrow. My nose, and believe me, I considered my nose but later worried that I might get ancient and be dotted with holes that would affect my breathing, or worse, sag like big drops.

I remember Carmen Chavez’s cat pulled her earring straight through her ear and her lobe hung like a cloven hoof, all floppy like fringe, and that image stayed with me forever so that the piercings went the way of the tattoos. Out of mind.

I did get one second piercing on my right ear, although the last time I wore a stud in it was when I was 19, I think, and had teeny-tiny diamonds that Corky gave me and that I almost immediately lost, or one anyway.

I wish I had been the kind of young adult that thought nothing of changing my body, nothing of the risks of dirty needles — Cousin R___ got Hepatitis for life on account of his tattoos. I wish I could have colored away, I wish I’d even gone for the parts of my body where the skin sits on bone, showed my tolerance for pain and gotten Saint Lucy’s eyeballs, one on the top of each hand.

Someone once told me my art would make good tattoos, but I might have gone for more traditional images, a skull and bones on my other bicep, no dainty stuff, just the fare of soldiers and men my father’s age, a ribbon floating across my back shoulder, I Love You Jim!, except it might have had some other man’s name on it, an earlier love, for I would have been younger and bolder when I got it.

I’ve always been most in awe of the teardrops falling from the outside corner of a person’s eye, one drop for each year in prison, or is it for every five years, I wonder.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TATTOOS

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I thought about getting a tattoo. In my 40’s. I changed my mind at the last minute. It was going to be a lynx. Yeah, the puffy jowls that look like Kiev’s. When you brush her hair back, her face is thin and pointy like Chaco’s. But naturally, it’s wider at the edges than it is at the top. All fur. The girl is all ebony fur and bushy tail.

The tattoos, I don’t remember why I changed my mind. Pain. Or the idea that I might have to live with something just a little bit too long. An image, any image, I might get sick of it over time. I could not find inspiration for this practice. I think it’s because I am tired. I went to the History of Tattoos link, the Tattoo You link, too. The most surprising was the one from The Shining, a tattoo of Jack Nicholson peeking through the door he has just chopped to shreds with an ax, spouting, “Here-rr-ee—rrr—ee’ssss, Johnny!”

Then there was the tattoo of the Holy Mother, all across the broad of a woman’s back. That was impressive. No, I didn’t get the lynx. But I still feel close to her mysteries. The full body tattoo is a signature of classic Japanese tattooing. I didn’t know that before. Women as well as men go under the needle. I’ve always thought that women were able to bear more pain. There is childbirth. I’ve never gone through it. And I never will. But the stories I have heard. Big babies, 13 pounds pushing torque through a small contorted opening.

I’m lost in words. In thoughts. I’m tired. The day was full. But not of tattoos. I can’t land on a pinprick to the skin. My mind wanders out to the crow on the branch of an oak. The pre-spring sunset from a lonely distance. The Fed Ex man stepping up to the door at 3pm. The way my back aches at a certain time of the day, way down in the lower back. Hormones. Maybe the position of the Blue Moon.

Pants crawls into a box tattooed with black ink. A Sony Vaio, a turquoise green screen, a game of Mahjong. I was never good at games. I bought a box of tattoo Band-Aids once. I think I still have a couple of them tucked away in a plastic cylinder I carry in my sling pack, along with a short tube of Neosporin. The black panther swirled in curves across the porous plastic – Band-Aid, yeah, I’d stick her on my paper cuts to ease the drone of a corporate day. I tried those little tricks of the trade, to lighten it up for a serious team of data entry processors.

For some, laughter works. Others, well, they don’t want to buy all the guff. Serious is the way they prefer their jobs, their relationships. I got to the part in Main Street where Carol finds out what the townspeople from Gopher Prairie really think about her. They are serious people who would rather talk about milking the cows or the sloshy mud on Main Street, rather than the last time they laughed or had fun. Midwestern blood.

I remember the Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, the Tattoo You cover. I wasn’t a big Stones fan. The Beatles were more my style. Keith Richards was in a Saturday Night Live sketch last weekend. He was advertising leather bags, was it Louis Vuitton? But the news anchor could not figure out which was the bag. Poor joke, I know. That’s what I’ve stooped to on a late Monday evening, tired, with an aching back. This is what comes out of a tired mind.

I don’t have a tattoo. And I probably never will. I think it takes a certain kind of “guts” that I probably don’t have. I do appreciate a good sketch. What I noticed when I checked out the Tattoo You site, is that some tattoo artists are better than others. More detail and color. Just like real life.

I colored another mandala last weekend, the second in the March series. It relaxed me. Liz has taken to drawing her own, surprising me with the accuracy, proportion, and line detail she is able to draw freeform. I could not draw a straight line if my life depended on it. Thank goodness it never has. Even with a ruler, I am straight-line challenged. I’m more of a curve person.

The last mandala was an early labyrinth. The one before that, a Celtic knot. Even the Celts were big fans of the tattoo. All those strings tied up in dyed knots. The journey is like that. A craftless series of heartfelt decisions. I like to think I have choices. That life is a series of daily decisions: what to say, what not to say, how much to reveal, what to cut, how honest should I be. I have not revealed much in this Writing Practice. Some days that’s what happens. The bear eats you.

Too many words floating serifs to the wind. I like to think of sheets to the wind as my grandmother’s laundry, cool blue summer on a sweaty aqua breeze. But truthfully, I don’t remember my grandmother ever hanging out the laundry. It was Mom, rows and rows in the backyard in Pennsylvania, strung line to line through humid afternoons. The damp end of the day. When fireflies lit up the hill at Hershey. And I in my Mod Squad straight hair, faded bib overalls, sans tattoo, rolled one more time down the lawn with the capital H.

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, March 10th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TATTOOS

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  Wings, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Wings, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

  Wings, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Wings, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Do you have a tattoo? Otzi the IceMan has 57 of them. His 5000-year-old body was discovered in 1991, on a mountain between Austria and Italy, by German tourists trekking the Oetz Valley. The IceMan is one of the best preserved Neolithic corpses ever found.

He was still wearing goatskin leggings and a grass cape. His copper-headed axe and a quiver full of arrows were lying nearby.

Maybe Otzi will show you his tattoos if you show him yours. He has a cross on the inside of the left knee, numerous parallel lines on his ankles, and six 15 centimeter straight lines above his kidneys. There is speculation that the tattoos were applied for therapeutic treatment of arthritis.

Tattooing has existed across cultures since 12,000 BC, though the purpose varies from culture to culture. The word tattoo is said to derive from the Polynesian word ‘ta’ which means to strike something, and the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means to mark something twice.

    Courage, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Courage, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Courage, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

In Borneo, women tattooed symbols on their forearm indicating their particular skill. The Greeks used tattooing for communication among spies; markings identified the spies and showed their rank. Some tattoos are for status or to show membership. Others are strictly for adornment. There are also demeaning uses of tattoos throughout history. The Romans used them to mark criminals and slaves.

Tattoos (once stereotyped as the body art of sailors, jailbirds, and bikers) have had a resurgence in the last few decades. They’ve become a hot topic of discussion at more than one family dinner table. Teenagers coming of age begin to ask the hard questions:  “When can I get my nose pierced? Oh, and can I get a tattoo?”

Flying, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Flying, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Flying, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Flying, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Write about your relationship to tattoos. Are you offended by them? Or are they a form of self-expression. If you have a body art tattoo, write about the color, imagery, and location. Where did you have it done? Most people choose symbols that mean something to them. Did you design your tattoo? Was it painful to sit under the needle? How did you get through the pain.

Using the rules of Writing Practice, write as many details as you can remember.

If you always wanted a tattoo but could never get up the nerve, write about that. If your teenage daughter or son has a tattoo, write about your experiences negotiating with them. If you gave them a firm, “No!” – why?

Remember the cover of the Rolling Stones 1981 album, Tattoo You? The record spent nine weeks at Number One, boosted by radio favorites “Start Me Up” and “Waiting on a Friend.” Write about the album cover art. Do you remember any other music about tattoos?

What’s the most shocking body art tattoo you’ve ever seen? If you need images to stimulate your memory, check out the art at Tattoo You. Or the photographs and sketches at A Brief History of Tattoos.

Love, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Love, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Love, Central Pennsylvania, June 2007, all photographs in this post © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, March 3rd, 2008

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