Something that I will never understand is why people judge others based on appearance. I have a few things about me that can make others jump to conclusions, and it frustrates me to no end. For example, I am fat, but I am also not unhealthy. That doesn’t make sense to some people, including my (former) doctor but so it is. Another example is that I am a mother, a teacher, a homemaker, a rather conservative lady, and I have several tattoos. I’m not going to attack you with my pro-tattoo political platform. I will not go into a diatribe using phrases I see thrown around on social media and the internet, like “people with tattoos don’t go around judging people who don’t” and the like. I will not try and persuade the un-tattooed to go out and get ink. I honestly don’t care if you have one or none or fifteen. If I see one that I think is neat, I will say so, but I otherwise do not comment on them for one simple reason: my tattoos are easily one of the most personal things about me.
I’m going to share about them anyway.
I won’t go into the whole story of every piece of work, but I’d like to share a little of what is behind my Art. That’s what I generally call them by the way. I like to say my Art or Work because they were work and they are art. It is tricky to allow someone else to create an image to go onto your skin. It’s sort of like making a mix tape (sorry kids, but I will always say mix tape, not playlist), using someone else to express how you feel. My tattoos are of words and of things, and they are important to me in very different ways. Let’s start at the beginning.
When I was seventeen years old, I knew that I would be leaving for school after summer and becoming a music teacher. Of course, I was wrong, but I had no idea. Music was the driving force of my life, and I wanted to express myself in a way that would show that. I got a tattoo of a treble clef on my thigh. It was how I became known at my tiny college, and I loved that. I wasn’t trying to be a rebel, I was trying to be me, and I found something else along the way. Having a tattoo was a way to love my skin.
When I got my next, I was a stupid, angry, depressed, and drunk 21 year old. I got a very poorly drawn and colored Celtic knot on my ankle. It was terrible, is the only tattoo I regret, and has since been covered up. The cover up was my next work, and it is a sun. I was married to Husband by then, I was 25 years old, and I chose a sun because husband collects them. He collected me, too.
As much as I loved being the tattoo girl, I wasn’t addicted to getting them as some people are. Not yet, anyway. Fast forward ten years and I was a very different woman. I was a long time wife and mother, and our family had just faced what will hopefully be our hardest time as a family. This was when we almost lost Husband due to an illness (written about in this post) and then to a pretty severe car accident. Husband, who is normally a bright and shiny person, was deep in the throes of questioning his purpose. he truly believed that God was not on his side anymore, and did not know if he would make it out of the year alive. When he did, and when life began to turn around, he asked if we could get matching tattoos. He wanted to get a tree of life, a symbol that has had meaning for us for a long time, and to have Daughter’s name written though it. He and I met with our artist and designed what we were looking for together. When we were done, Husband told me that knowing he had Daughter and me was all that kept him alive that year, and I will forever love that tattoo for reminding me that his love for us was enough to feed his soul.
Getting the tree is when some people could say I became addicted. While I disagree with that word choice, I will concede that I became hooked on the idea of my Art as therapy and guidance. My next work was an ambigram of the words Breathe/Deeply, which I am reminded to do every time I see it. It is on my wrist, so I see it often. It even became something that frustrated colleagues would come to me to touch in a sort of meditative way when feeling frustrated. I became close with a few people because of it. Next came my favorite piece of Art, the one pictured above. I needed the reminder that life was good and that everything would be ok. Working with my artist (who has done most of my Art at this point) I described how I wanted 3 little birds, like in the Bob Marley song. They would be a representation of my little family, having found out at that point that there would only ever be the three of us. Being half Lithuanian, I wanted the birds to be reminiscent of Eastern European folk art, and since my artist hails from Poland, that worked out well. We are both still enamored by that one.
I’ve done more since then: a lotus, reminding me that beauty can emerge from the darkest depths; a small anchor, so I won’t forget to count on those that keep me grounded in hard times; a piece of lace around my arm, to try and teach me to love the part of my body I hate the most; a cluster of forget me nots, one for each year of my life in Colorado; the word “be,” telling me that I can choose what to be each day, be strong, be brave, be vigilant. I have one more, too, but it’s meaning is just too hard to record here.
Some people cover their scars with tattoos. Some people get tattoos to remind them of those they have loved and lost. Some people just want to get a tattoo, damnit. It’s not our place to judge them for their Art any more than we would judge them for what is on their walls. My Art makes me able to walk out the door every day. It is my armor, my beauty, my heart. My Art is a representation on the outside of who I am on the inside, and I am proud to show the world who I really am.