Saturday, July 30, 2011

These people are awfully quiet.

My blog post entitled "Why You Should Not Get a Tattoo" is in Google's top ten hits. About three hundred people a day read this post, or at least look at it. There is one comment under that post, and that was left in 2008, by someone I know. 

I just re-read it, and the truth is, though I wrote it partially in jest, it contains some good advice. 

I do wonder why no one ever leaves a comment. 

Image note: Not a tattoo, but it would be clever (and not recommended).

Recently I noted that a number of tattooed people have posted comments on Facebook criticizing plastic surgery because the people who had it done weren't happy with themselves as they were "naturally." Tattooing and plastic surgery aren't so different. If people simply wanted to "wear art," they'd don interesting clothes and hang pictures from their necks. People want to change the way they look in drastic, permanent ways, and though not many think of tattoos as doing that, that is indeed what they do. 

When I first started tattooing, I met a tattoo artist who had inked his left calf entirely black. A year later, the person he had apprenticed with had done the same thing to his left forearm. They both had the same goal, which was simply to see how evenly they could do black work with a four flat needle. I have always wanted to do an entire "body part" one color, but I never had any takers. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thirteen drafts later. . .

. . .you get this:

I spent the afternoon knitting while listening to various people discussing personal growth. Personal growth  seems like a silly term to me. I think, "How can there not be personal growth? Is there impersonal growth?"

Okay. I'm being silly. Of course there are plenty of people who don't want to "grow." People will, in fact, do a helluva lot to not grow. They will kick and scream and kill instead of changing or challenging themselves. Besides, the very concept of "personal growth" seems absurd these days. Everything is a disease. You have a disease? Well, then. There's a pill for that, and if there isn't, it's incurable.

I felt motivated to cut through my hazy thinking because I felt angry. Listening to  this  trailer for the documentary film "Healing Homes" made me want to cry. The cure for psychosis? Love.

That's right. Love. No pills. No therapy. Just love.

Instead of crying, I got angry. I thought about when I met my new G.P. recently, and she asked me why I wasn't seeing a psychiatrist. I told her I've been tapering off the medication I've been on, very slowly, and had no interest in seeing a psychiatrist, for prescribing medication is the only thing that they do. She was concerned. "Have you ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia?" I wonder what would have happened if I had answered yes to that question. Would I have been forcibly put into a psychiatric hospital, even though I had no signs or symptoms of the "disease?" Perhaps. 

Even though I was off the hook, since this doctor is an osteopath, and I figure she's at least a little bit open minded, I felt obligated to stick up for people who are indeed schizophrenic. There is no evidence whatsoever that medication is helpful for psychosis in the long term. None. There is no evidence that schizophrenia is a brain disease, as most people believe, and as I once did. How is it that doctors, too, believe that it is a disease when there is no proof anywhere of any such thing? I did say something, and, of course, she looked at me as if I was crazy. I don't generally notice that kind of thing, as I've tried hard (yes, changed) to stop trying to discern what others are thinking about me. I can not read minds, but there's that certain look of incredulity, along with a raising of the eyebrows, an intake of breath. . .well. . .Suffice it to say, the doc has a Ph.D., and I do not, so what on earth was I thinking? I must be mad.

What about proof that programs that do not rely on medication have better outcomes? There's proof of that.

This is what makes me so angry. I generally do not use the word "evil," for it has connotations that I'm not sure I believe in, but I am damned sure that there are some things (and people) who are very, very bad. Treating people with kindness is not a money making endeavor, and as such, in this so-called society, it simply doesn't pay. So what do we do with the damning evidence that love and kindness (or a lack thereof) actually matters? We hide it.

Yes, this is a rant. 

Capitalism destroys everything it touches. Do you seriously think the profit motive can do anything positive for this world? We can congratulate ourselves for having a green company or a small carbon footprint, but at core, the whole system is rotten. These little fixes can make our consciences feel better, but they, perhaps, might make matters worse. A clean conscience has been proven to cause people to do people more harm than good.  Most of us know it. Those of us who know it well are, well, crazy. 

Of course the crazy people aren't going to be treated with love in America. Drugs aren't working? Electroconvulsive "therapy" for you! 

You think I'm kidding? Hey, it's on the rise for those who are "treatment resistant." That's pretty interesting considering the treatment has never been proven to work on any known illness. 

This is the stuff of science fiction dystopian novels.

Sadly, it is not a fiction. It may sound insane, but that makes sense, for it is.

Image note: I really like Jan van Eyck, but I do not believe in angels. This is a minority point of view in America. 55% of Americans do literally believe in angels. I guess it's only if you think they're out to get you, instead of benignly looking over your shoulder, that'll get you into trouble.

Friday, July 8, 2011

To taste a rose

When I was a child, I tried to eat flowers. I don't remember doing it, but it was captured on film more than once, so I know it's true.

It was rather a family joke, "the kid who ate flowers," but I was told by my somewhat sophisticated mother, that eating flowers was perfectly okay (as long as it was the right flower). One should not eat foxgloves. That would kill you. Violets? Fine. Especially candied violets. Nasturtiums were also fine, and looked very nice in a salad.

My mother taught me that food was not just about the taste buds. She taught me that beautiful food was usually good food, and a "square meal" was rich in colors and should always smell good.

On top of that, she encouraged everyone to dispense with table manners. On many occasions, while eating meat, she'd say "Oh, just pick it up with your fingers! It's meat!" We'd sit at the table gnawing on bones, practically growling. Napkins (sometimes piles of them) would be in our laps, but otherwise, we ate lamb shanks and bloody steak like a bunch of drunken pirates.

No, I don't do this in public, I don't eat much meat nowadays, and I'm not the hedonistic I used to be or my mother was. I live a simple quiet life without much excitement or growling.

This is all a big preface to my wanting to express exactly why I'm so intoxicated by Kathi Langelier's Wild Rose and Honey Elixir. Kathi hand picks wild rose petals to make this stuff. A crazy amount of work and heart go into each little bottle of all her Herbal Revolution "products." Ah, the word product seems altogether too cold and impersonal to use here, but I digress. . .

A few weeks ago, tired, hot, and ready to go home, I stumbled on to Kathi's booth at the Belfast Farmer's Market. I didn't have my glasses on, and I thought she was selling cold drinks. Maybe it was simply my wish. I told her this, and she said something like, "Well, I do have something you can taste." She handed me a little bottle and I heard the word "rose." Then, I smelled a rose, a perfect rose, a wild rugosa rose.

Someone said to me earlier today, "I don't like the smell of roses. Too sweet." Sorry, but I just don't get that. First off, there isn't just One Rose. There's infinite roses. Roses on a wet day. Roses on a hot day. Roses at their peak, their decline, their first bloom. There's roses that barely smell, and ones that are heady and thick with scent. There are roses that smell pink and there's ones that do indeed smell like white roses and then there's the bitter smell of a yellow rose that makes one think "Is that indeed a rose?" My writing can not do justice to the smell of a rose.

This little bottle had it, the perfect smell of a perfect rose on a perfect summer day on the coast of Maine. Oh. My.

But that wasn't all.

She said, "Taste it."

And I did.

You can find Wild Rose and Honey Elixir on Etsy. You can also read Maria Browning's more coherent musings on this over at her blog. My post was really only meant to be a response to hers, as leaving a comment was too small a venue for my intoxicated with rose rambling.

Image Note: John William Waterhouse "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May" 1908

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Out of touch

Yesterday, when someone told me "Casey Anthony was found not guilty!" I asked, "Who's that?"

That's right, folks. I knew nothing about this story. I did listen to the radio on my way to and from the dentist today, and here's my opinion:

Murders go unpunished every day. Innocent people get convicted every day. That's the American justice system.

I have to admit that the case against Anthony wasn't very good. One can convict someone of murder simply because they're a "no-good lying slut," if the lawyer for the prosecution is very good or the defense lawyer is particularly bad, but in this case, that did not happen. It's certainly possible that Anthony did indeed kill her child, and though that's more than terrible, we shouldn't convict people of crimes simply because they are awful human beings.

You may accuse me of sloppy thinking. I've given this subject (and Casey Anthony) about 20 minutes of thought. Why I'm bothering to write about it is up for discussion.

I have a Really Bad Toothache. This excuse is now officially legitimate for "a month or so," according to the dentist.

What concerns me most today, selfishly, is why a person who has a swollen face and has driven an hour and ten minutes to see a dentist is simply told to "take a few more aspirin." My toothache has gotten so bad that I took a spectacular fall on the street on Sunday and had a small accident at work yesterday. I am now covered with bruises and am thanking the universe for still having strong bones.

I am glad I don't have a small child to take care of this afternoon and evening. I am wondering, not for the first time, why we need to take a test and get a license to drive a car, but having children requires no special skills except knowing how to get laid.

I am, on principle, against any laws that involve personal choices, but really, why do we need to take a driver's test and not a having kids test? It's not a stupid comparison. If one wants to drive, one must do a certain amount of studying and practice. If one passes a written (or verbal) test and a road test, one gets a license. If you break enough laws, your license is taken away. In the case of having children, which is infinitely more important, one simply has them, and if you do a spectacularly bad job, they're taken away from you. If you do something to your children that's criminal, you may (or may not) be put in jail.

Image note: Ms. Anthony got this tattoo after telling the tattooist that her child was missing. So many people are shocked by this. I'm not. People get tattooed when they are in shock. Whether it was the shock of what she said happened, or whether she was trying to pretend that whatever happened didn't happen, getting a tattoo is a sure fire way to avert one's attention.

This reminds me of the large amounts of crap parents who get their kids' names tattooed on them; mothers who say, "They can take my kids away but they can't take away my tattoo," fathers who refuse to pay child support, or ones whose wives and girlfriends wanted to get their children as far away from them as possible. This kind of thing helped burn me out as a tattooist. I started to think caring for children was in inverse proportion to having their names tattooed on a person (and, yes, there are exceptions, so don't get too angry at me). What could I say to a mother who had kids at home who were wanting for food, and I knew was spending her last fifty bucks on a tattoo? "Please go away?" Yes, I did do that on occasion, but she'd just go elsewhere. Ah, la bella vita. . .

Saturday, July 2, 2011


There's bad design by accident and there's bad design by design. The former is sometimes wonderful. A tattoo shop I once worked at had a poorly painted sign that said simply Tattoo? over the front door. When the owner relocated his shop, he proudly removed that sign and tried to throw it away. To him, it reeked of poverty, a time when he couldn't afford to get a real sign painter to paint him something, or the funds for a shiny new neon sign. A friend of mine was there to help him move (a painter), and he argued for bringing that funky old sign to the new shop. The argument was lost. I don't know what happened to that sign.

For at least twenty years, there's been a little sign hanging on Route 7 that simply says SWEATERS. Underneath it is a crude painting of a sweater shape that could have been painted by a literal minded young child. I love that sign. I have never stopped to see what kinds of sweaters are for sale, for I've always imagined they'd be hideous things made of Red Heart yarn. The fact that this property also has some similar signs that say Sinners, Burn, and In Hell have also kept me from visiting.

When I had my own tattoo shop, I didn't have a sign. The reason? Signs were not allowed for second floor businesses. I asked a lawyer friend if I should fight the city, and he said I shouldn't bother. Instead, he suggested I put a painting in the window with a depiction of a sign in it. 

Since few people looked up, at some point I put a sandwich board out on the street. I didn't want to pay for signage, so I used the same strategy. I painted a bizarro tattooed pin-up girl pointing upwards. I had some fun with this and added some flying saucers with tattooed aliens waving hello. I didn't think much of it until the tourist season rolled along. Suddenly, I had well heeled people coming up the stairs inquiring "Who painted that sign?" Every single one of these people seemed to be dying to meet someone other than me. "Where did you grow up?" "Did you go to art school?" The answers, "New York," and "Yes" were deal killers.  No, they hadn't found a witless outsider artist who had been painting in a locked closet, born to a brother and sister duo, on a defunct chicken farm in the hinterlands of Belfast, Maine. And no, I'm not enough of an actor to play one on TV or anywhere else. 

This sign is a classic in Maine, though I'm a bit dismayed to see that they're actually quite proud of it:

I originally thought I'd write about fonts, but, as usual, other thoughts got in my way. 

The day started with my continued reading about what fonts people hate and why. Papyrus seems to be the #1 most hated font on the Web. There's an I Hate Papyrus Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog. 

I had to hang a sign up today (one that I did not design), and after reading all that Papyrus hate, I felt quite uncomfortable with the fact that the sign used this Abominable Type. I also felt uncomfortable with the fact that I felt uncomfortable. Even after what I'd written yesterday, it seemed a bit ridiculous to suddenly be judgmental about something I hadn't given a thought to the day before. 

Still, the judgments on Papyrus are sound (to a point). It's not inherently ugly, no, but it certainly is overused, and once one sees that, it becomes altogether too clear. Papyrus is everywhere! Anything that's natural, nature-related, important but not stuffy, new-agey, and religious but not too serious uses Papyrus. My advice from yesterday still stands. Google your font before you use it! 

The problem with the lovely idea of design-for-everyone is that everyone is not a designer. Just because one has templates galore to guide you doesn't mean it going to turn out okay. The signs and advertising I like because it's bad is very bad indeed. It's kitsch or completely unselfconscious. Hussey's sign (above) used to fall into that category, but if you go check out their website, now it's simply self-consciously bad, the kind of thing that falls into the We Hired a Designer and He Okayed Our Being Rubes category.

Sorry, but once you're big enough to have a website as big as theirs, using the slogan "If we ain't got it, you don't need it," no longer sounds cute, nor does "Guns, wedding gowns, and cold beer." 

Don't get me wrong. I don't think having a degree in graphic design means one automatically does have better graphic design skills. There's plenty of stupid, talentless, tasteless people with degrees. However, if you're doing type design, knowing what kerning is isn't a bad idea.

The folks who designed the Stop and Shop logo did a great job with the red and green dots, but the type "design" is simply awful:

What's that say? Stop and Sltop?

It has been redesigned. Now, the graphics have nothing to do with the name of the store. . .

. . .thus proving that lots of money will not always buy you any sense and that maybe whomever owns this corporation should have gotten someone's 12-year-old to use a MSWord template and pay them with whatever would tempt a kid nowadays to spend their time developing a grocery store logo. 

My point?


Friday, July 1, 2011


Anyone familiar with this blog knows I have a thing about conformity. I loathe the way non-conformists have a need to conform to each other. Yes, we all need community, but there can be community without us all having to wear the same clothes.

On the other hand, there's something fantastic about wearing the same clothes. I have always loved uniforms (and I don't mean "I love a man in uniform.")

I grew up in a nouveau riche community where what one wore was terribly important. That town was in the forefront of what came to be true all over America. A twelve-year-old must wear certain clothes and brands and own certain things or that kid is going to be picked on. I know many a poor parent who forgoes a lot of important things in order to make sure their child is not harangued in this way. One hundred and fifty dollar sneakers? They've become a necessity to protect their kids from being tortured in school. Anti-bullying lectures and classes will do no good until issues like this are addressed.

For this reason, I like school uniforms. Some see them as ways to force children to conform, but they instead do the very opposite. When wearing a uniform, no one can judge who your family is from your looks. No one can discern your socioeconomic status. It's wonderful.

I loved going to boarding school, for the Very Rich Kids did not flaunt their wealth. I looked shabby, but so did everyone else. It amazed me. Some of these kids' fathers owned the largest corporations in the world. At this level of wealth, one wants to be fairly quiet about it. On visiting days, I learned to figure out who came from the wealthiest families by how beat up the cars were. The worse the car, the wealthier the family. So much for the town I grew up in. Those folks were small potatoes!

Now, the people who drove these beat-up cars often wore hand made shoes and cashmere sweaters, but to the undiscerning eye these didn't look all that different than other shoes and sweaters (but true discerners can tell).

This leads me to this, what I came here to write about: fitting in by stealth. People ask me why I cover up my tattoos. There's more than one answer, but the important one here is this: Why on earth would I want to stigmatize myself? If I cover my tattoos up, a person meeting me for the first time will be less likely to judge me. I can look quite conservative, and I'd prefer to do so. What better why to, ahem, infiltrate?

Seriously, if you want to provoke, to change, to threaten, to do anything vaguely "revolutionary," fitting in seamlessly is the best strategy.  'Tis a childish stance to scream "Accept me the way I am, tantrums and all!" Throwing a cross into vat of piss is not the best way to change anyone's mind about anything (except public funding for the arts).

"Piss Christ" has become an icon of the in-your-face and huh? world of modern art, and Serrano succeeded beautifully in creating a buzz about himself, but ultimately, even though he claimed no inherent meaning to Piss Christ besides "ambiguity," it only offended. Offense is altogether to easy a thing to do.

William Burroughs, though offensive in his own way, by wearing a gray suit, was far more subversive. He could pass well in any business setting. This obit, entitled "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit," tells his story fairly well in few words. The author says Burroughs "passed." Yes, he looked like traveling salesman or a CIA agent, but neither of these people is supposed to be either homosexual or an unrepentant drug addict.

Of course, we all seem to think that under the quiet exterior of Everyman is someone harboring a secret life. In this age of wanting everyone to know what our dirty secrets are, isn't it altogether more fun to keep 'em guessing?

I have no idea what my original point or intent was. I have a toothache.

That's today's excuse. What will be tomorrow's?

Image note: William S. Burroughs favored Brooks Brothers.

Ways to shoot oneself in the foot

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about marketing and PR lately. I've come to the conclusion that many of us undermine ourselves in ways that we think are vaguely noble.  Some of us do it subconsciously, and others do it with full intent. Do these intentions make sense?

On this blog, I write generally, and I write long posts. I know full well that both things are Verboten on the web unless one already has a devoted following. I've thought about this one a lot, and decided I don't care (much). This blog is my personal not-for-profit time wasting activity (oh, a hobby!), and though I question it repeatedly, I have decided not to change. I'll accept the consequences. 

If I was giving advice to someone else about how to promote their blog, I'd most assuredly tell them to pick one topic and stay on it. 

Yes, I'm being a contrarian. I like long books, long articles, and people who think too much. The web and reality television is causing all of us to brand our person-hood, and that is best done in small bites. I suppose my brand is wordy, self-defeating, and not at all self promoting. I am, in effect, saying, "I do not care if I succeed." Indeed, this is true. I am not a writer. For whatever reason, I decided to share my daily thoughts with whomever feels moved to read them, and that's about it for my motives. End of story.

If I was trying to sell myself or a product in the world and on the web, I would try (I hope) to look at what I'm doing without the lens of attachment. Yes, attachment. People become so attached to their ideas and products that they do not accept good advice. 

For instance, there are countless articles about What Fonts Not To Use.  I've heard many a person who has picked one of these fonts for their product say something like, "I'll not be bullied by design Nazis! I'm using it!" They think this is some sort of rebellious act (but secretly are simply hurt by finding out their choice was so poor). It is not a rebellious act to use a font that screams I Am An Amateur or I Have Lousy Taste. Thinking it might be a good joke to say I Know I Picked Something That Is Common and A Sign of Amateurism But I'm Using It Anyway Because I'm a Rebel and Am Against Marketing is altogether stupid.

Oh, don't get me started. This reminds me of the subject of getting a tattoo or a Harley Davidson to show one is Different. Millions of People Who Are Different have tattoos, ride Harleys, and wear the same clothes. 

If you believe your product will sell or you will succeed simply because you make something that is better than the rest is simply naive. We all know this. Vague notions about the evil-ness of marketing and PR do nothing to help you. Do you want to fail? The answer might be "yes." Think about it.

Failing financially has always been seen as a sign of artistic purity. Do you want to be a Starving Artist? Folks who are may not be exactly starving, but I know I'm rather sick of driving a beater car and not being able to afford new eyeglasses. My eyes are tired and I'm anxious about August, when my car is due to be inspected. I know it will fail, and if I continue to be attached to being poor, I'll be doing a heck of a lot of walking (which is fine), but my world will instantly become smaller, for I'll no longer be able to get out of my small town without a ride from someone else.

Is there really something artistically noble about this? I think not. 

One doesn't like bragging about oneself. My grandmother called those with too high an opinion of themselves "swelled heads." Funny thing is that we brag about others and other peoples' products all the time. Ever have a really good meal at a restaurant, see a great film, listen to an amazing new band? Of course you did!

I've had no problems with gushing about everyone else's stuff. "You've got to listen/watch/buy/try/read. . ."

When I first started out an a commercial illustrator, I thought if I simply showed up and presented my portfolio, it would "speak for itself." When I was a weaver, I knew my blankets were made of the highest quality yarn and woven as well as they could be. Couldn't people see that?

I had always wondered why I didn't sell one blanket at the Blue Hill Fair oh so many years ago while another company, who made "obviously" inferior blankets took in more orders than they could handle in a year. It baffled me. I wondered if I had been unfriendly. Nope. I wondered if my display was inferior. No again. I wondered if I was missing something with my product. Nah. It was lovely. 

What I completely missed was the reasons why people buy things they do not need.

People buy dreams, not products. If it's face cream, it's the idea of youth and beauty. If it's a hand woven blanket, it could be many things. Here in Maine, it's the dream of living near the water with the scent of the sea in one's hair, lazy days with a book, "The Way Life Should Be," mowing one's lawn with a push mower, and cracking lobsters open with friends. . .

If I want to sell a blanket, it has to mean something, not just be good. It doesn't even matter if it's good. 

I've known that, but it has pissed me off. What has being pissed off done for me? Not a thing. 

I mostly wove tartan blankets, and loved telling people about the myth of the tartan. It's a fascinating story, and one I'll leave for another time. I had the idea that people like the truth. I know that's not only not true, but the furthest thing from the truth. People prefer myths. The more untruth you surround your product with, the better. Besides that, if a person likes tartans, telling them that the whole history of the tartan is a sham is simply saying "You are an idiot for believing what you do and I want to burst your bubble." 

I had no idea that that was what I was doing. No wonder I didn't sell anything! My blankets and promotional materials were beautiful, but I killing people's fantasies, the last thing anyone should be indulging when trying to sell something. 

If you are selling a product and have a propensity for Speaking Truth To Power, I recommend one leave that activity for your spare time (or become an investigative journalist).

I will now abruptly end this entry.

Image note: Yes, this is a real t-shirt design. Please, before you publish your website, print your business card, or whatever else you "designed" if you're not a designer (and even if you are), google the name of the font and see if people make fun of it. Sure, you don't want to be ruled by Font Snobs, but saying "I'll do it anyway!" doesn't say anything noble about you. Really. If you had the words "Fuck You" tattooed on your knuckles, do you think you have earned the right to complain you didn't get the job? Some people do. . .