On Bravery: Crossing "Get a Tattoo" Off My Bucket List


I sit, sipping my drink, at the bar after our shift ends. My co-worker stands adjacent to me, sipping from her own glass. I admire her tattoos: two blue jays bordering each side of her sternum. They fit her. Other co-workers have last names sprawled across their forearms and rib cages. Friends from Art School frequently dawn ink on the inside of their wrists, down their spines, near their ankles. One friend, whom I admire dearly, displays more than a couple handfuls over her entire body: black and white ones, colorful ones, drawings, scientific illustrations, shapes, some sparse lettering. They weave in and out and around each other with grace; it's easy to tell her artful eye has played a part in the curation of her body pieces. 


I've kept my ideas of personal tattoos and placement in the back of my mind, a bit hidden, but ready to draw up when I felt the time was right for my first. There's a mood board on my Pinterest page dedicated to the meticulous illustration, professional shading, and placement of tattoos. I visit it often, thinking "there. the shoulder, just tickling the edge of my collar bone and dripping a bit down my back," or "what about the inside of my forearm?" Sometimes, "my spine! Just below my neck!" I dreamt of black and white pieces - never color, for some reason. An empty circle, small & thin: the worldwide accepted sign of the circle of life. Maybe a pine tree, long, spindly, and sparse. Or text: "courage," "kind & brave," "do," "right & 3/4," or maybe just a simple semicolon (;) - the point where a sentence could have ended, but didn't. Perhaps I'd get coordinate points: one for Millway Beach at home on Cape Cod, one for The Lake in Lincoln Park, Chicago, and one at the Springs in Austin, TX - each place I've found a home thus far. "I can add to it each time I find another part of the world I'm connected to," I'd tell myself.  

Ultimately, the time never came. The mood board is still there, set neatly in between my ideas and my fascination with others' ink. But I've recently crossed "get a tattoo" off my bucket list. Years ago, when getting a tattoo still seemed exciting and rebellious, I'd tell people who wondered why I had none, "I'm a blank canvas," which seemed to acquiesce their curiosity. It seemed to calm my own need to permanently alter my body, as well. 

It wasn't until this past year, when I earned a scar (and nerve damage) on my right wrist after a traumatic fall, that I started seeing myself, and my body, differently. I've succumbed to falling in love with my body's markings.

Our bodies are maps. The contours of our figures - the length of our legs and the span of our arms - are our latitudes and longitudes. The cellulite on the back of each thigh: our mountains and valleys. Our belly buttons: craters. The stretch marks our legs display from growth spurts: sand dunes in deserts. Our hair is the unpredictable ocean: smooth and lush on some days while it's rough and tumbled on others. The bright green veins running down our legs are rivers and streams flowing ever so fast that fish have a hard time swimming up them. The hairs on our arms and legs are just tiny trees blowing in the soft breeze. The crevices on our palms are trees' roots reaching down to the deepest of the earth's soil, and the freckles and moles spotted along our skin are stars above, shining down.

Our bodies are canvases. Our skin: the gesso that's laid down as a base. Our veins are contoured lines drawn in charcoal. Our freckles: splattered on with a drenched paint brush and the flick of a wrist. The laugh lines around our eyes and mouths are expressionistic additions while our bruises and sun tans are more reminiscent of Monet's impressionistic sunsets and lily pads. Our scars and body markings collected over time are abstractions of mistakes made and experiences had.

Our bodies are time capsules. The calluses on our feet - a tribute to miles walked instead of driven. Our varicose veins are honorary awards won for hours of good customer service in the restaurant industry. Our freckles and moles: all separate visits to the beach each summer. Our scars - some faint, others still puckered and purple - serve as constant mnemonics used to teach patience and care. 

Our bodies.

While I still enjoy and admire the intentionality of my peers' markings, I now humbly accept my body's natural ones. I'm proud of my genuine tattoos. 

And for those few moments I still want some fresh ink of my own? I grab a damp cloth and apply a temporary. 

Do you have any tattoos or markings you're particularly fond of? Post a photo (or simply write a desciption) below!