Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tattoos (yes, you heard correctly)

My legs were up on the coffee table (well, to be more precise, the wooden box), and I noticed my tattooed legs. I've had these nutcase tats for long time and honestly, the only time I actually notice that I have any tattoos is when I want to wear something that clashes and it's not cold. So, at least six months of the year my blindness to what I've had permanently etched into my skin is pretty much assured.

I don't know why tonight was different. I looked down and really saw the funny guys with the smirks sitting under my kneecap. On the back of my right leg is a huge Tibetan skull with a knife for a tongue and some crazy dice. I thought "who gets this stuff?" Well, I did.

I got a whole bunch of silly tattoos to combat my depression. I figured that having the word "love" on my ankle forever would remind me to love myself. I thought the clown headed snakes would make me laugh. I have no idea why I believed any of that, since I would have told any client that one stops seeing their own tattoos after a short while and fighting depression with tattoos (which, by the way, is quite common) does not work all that well.

I started hiding my tats at least two years ago, so no one says anything to me about them. People didn't, for the most part, even when I displayed them (without "pride"), mostly because I am not young, and partly because they are certainly odder than the usual. The most typical comment I would get was "Didn't that hurt?" To this, I would always get briefly anxious and touch my face, thinking there was blood dripping from some place that I couldn't feel. Otherwise, why would anyone ask me this question?

But no, I wasn't injured. I only have a (nearly) full sleeve on my left arm. With a t-shirt on, the only skin showing is the tip of my elbow.

When I was in the ER last week, a nurse asked me a lot of questions about my tattoos. This was unusual, but she was quite interested in knowing "what they meant." They mostly mean nothing to me, and they mean even less than they once did. The idea of that perplexed her, and she was right in being perplexed. Most people who are heavily tattooed are equally heavily invested in their symbolism. Yes, I got funny tattoos to combat my normal seriousness, but that's about as deep as things get.

My first tattoo was (and still is) of a snake ripping out of my skin. The symbolism there was "I am not normal and I no longer care" with a big serving of "I reject your notion of gender." I have no particular love for snakes nor care to have any rip out of my skin. Now, that tattoo is so old it pretty much looks like a big green X on my upper arm, which is what I should have probably had tattooed there in the first place.

I've got some truly awful garbage on above my left knee. This is the area I once used as a "scratch pad." The meaning of this is essentially "I hate my thighs and knees and don't care if I put really ugly crap on them." The other thing is that I needed a place to do my worst practicing, and that's the best spot. However, I've met lots of women tattooists who did not use their thighs (or any other part of their body) as practice 'cause they didn't devalue their skin as much as I do. But, truthfully, as I write this I'm thinking "oh puh-leeze. You're just internalizing some bs idea about what's beautiful and acceptable." Well, yes and no.

I suddenly became quite tired and thought I'd save this post and call it a night. Saving a blog entry has always meant that it never gets published. I'd prefer to cut things short and be the lazy thinker and writer I've always been. I do get tired trying to think too hard about anything. I'm not kidding you.

The truth is, I miss tattooing a little bit. I am somewhat surprised. It may be that I only miss having a livelihood (and life) that involves a good amount of intensity. I still have little interest in the actual tattoos, which really makes me a lousy tattoo shop owner. Someone recently asked me if I might be interested in working the front room of a tat shop (one that doesn't exist yet). I can only imagine my talking many people out of whatever they were planning on doing. I am very good at coming up with sound reasons not to do just about anything.

That nurse in the ER asked me if I regretted being tattooed. The answer is no. One would think I would answer in the affirmative. I was going to write that I accept whatever I've done to myself, but realize that isn't altogether honest. I don't accept that I was desperate enough to allow myself to be talked into a hysterectomy. That's something I've "done to myself." That, in comparison to the tats, is nothing. The tattoos? The funny thing is the one other question that I heard repeatedly, "How will you feel about them when you get old?!" - is turning out to be just as silly as I thought it might be. Who the heck cares? My skin is dry and becoming wrinkly. I'd rather it have silly pictures on it than see it bare and aged, or not. As I get older, it matters less, just like everything else.

I am reminded of a young man who complained to me about how much flak he got for having so many tattoos (and I realize someone else, I hope, is finishing all his unfinished ones). He said people grabbed his arms without permission, offered their opinions, made all sorts of comments. It pissed him off something terrible. He went through a phase where he covered up, and then one day he had his neck and knuckles tattooed by someone other than me. I wouldn't have done it. This guy was in turmoil over his identity. That's another reason I quit - an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.

I needn't have worried as much as I did about my clients' feelings about their tats. I knew they grew invisible with time, at least to the wearer. Maybe not for everyone. I've never thought of that. Hmmm.


jmcleod76 said...

Wow. No comments on this post. I'm surprised. I was going to comment the other day and got pulled away by some work.

My first tattoo was/is a modified "Jesus Fish" I got almost the second I turned 18. I'd outgrown it by the time I graduated from college. During the period when I was angriest at Christians and Christianity, I tried a few times to get it covered with other art - it's a simple and small enough piece, and shouldn't be difficult to cover with the right design - but mostly encountered hostility and condescension from the handful of tattooists who I asked about it. I don't know if there is some unwritten rule about cover-up work that I don't know about - only losers cover old tattoos, or something. Eventually, as you suggest here, I just stopped thinking about it. I don't even remember it's there 95% of the time. I don't know if I'll ever get any more tattoos. If I do, and if I have a good rapport with my artist, I may still get that symbol covered someday, but I almost never think about doing so, anymore.

Julie H. Rose said...

Jaime, it's either you or Maria who leave comments of late, : ( (unhappy face for the dearth of comments, not for you or Maria) except for comments left on backposts that are read frequently.

Ah well. That's what I get for being an all-over-the-map and not funny blogger. Why I still blog, I don't know. I might as well leave my musings somewhere.

As to why you'd be met w/ hostility for your cover-up, your guess is as good as mine. What unwritten rule about cover-ups your tat is under I am unaware of, unless it's just the fact that most tattooists are Christian, and if your tat isn't overtly "bad", they could have been offended you'd even think of covering it. It isn't someone's name or a swastika, so. . .then again, if you asked "could you cover it with something as small as possible?", that request is heard all too often.

I've tattooed SO many Jesus Fish!

TMC said...

I've experienced that unauthorized arm grabbing. I try to be nice about it but I don't like being touched and I don't think that just because you can SEE my tattoos doesn't mean to get to see them (i.e. look at them in detail, touch, ask the meaning).

I have a friend who has many tattoos, all in hide-able places. But for me, the placement is integral to the design as a whole, so they end up in places they can't hide. That's just the way it is. I do sometimes wonder how my perspective will change...