I did it, it’s official. Last night I joined the ranks of people with tattoos.
The path to this moment was much more complicated and challenging than I imagined it would be. I’ve been thinking about this tattoo for years, and I assumed when I was finally ready it would be a simple process of finding an artist, giving them my money and shebang we’re done!
But it’s actually more involved. You have to find an artist that does tattoos in your style (if you want it done well) which of course means you have to know what style you want. And there are lots of different styles to choose from, it turned into quite the research process. About 80% of my Instagram feed is now tattoo artists whose work I was looking at while I figured out what I wanted.
Once you find an artist you like, you have to contact them to try and setup an appointment. This is where things went loopy for me, but I think being in Moscow was the main issue. The artist I really liked took 2 weeks to respond to my emails, and I was worried about my emails being bumped for being in English to a Russian account, so I kept trying to reach her through different channels. I started to feel like her stalker, until she finally responded. She was busy, she asked me to send her info on what I wanted and she’d get in touch next week.
I sent her everything, and waited and waited and waited. Then turned into a stalker again trying to get in touch and find out when I might be able to get an appointment. Only to finally have her tell me (almost a month after my initial attempts to reach her) that she doesn’t want to do small tattoos anymore. Urghh! Frustration.
Luckily around this time, several friends of ours had also gotten tattoos at a local shop, so I decided to get in touch and see if they had an artist who would fit for what I wanted. They did! And even though she was booked solid for the next month, due to a cancellation, I got a call on Sunday afternoon that there was a slot for me if I wanted it with Julia, the artist who was “perfect for my style of tattoo”.
So here I was, almost 34 years old, in Moscow Russia, sitting down with an artist to create my first tattoo.
It was a really cool process seeing her put together the digital images I had sent, crop, adjust, arrange, change the contrast till she had something digital that I liked, which she then printed and then drew her own rendering on top. Then it was uploaded back to the computer again, tweaked a bit more till I was happy, then printed and the design was laid out on my wrist.
“Give me a few minutes to set everything up,” she said.
And the only similar experience I can related this moment to in my life was being asked to sit outside the operating room with my swollen belly while they arranged the OR for my c-section. A pregnant pause (pardon the pun) as you wait for something big to happen.
Getting a tattoo is nowhere as big a deal as having a baby, but it is permanent. And taking the leap to put something on your skin forever opens up a space in your mind. It’s almost a deeper level of confidence in yourself, in this choice you’re making to alter your body forever. Because you know that this alteration is something important, almost vital to who you really are. And by putting this expression on your skin where others can see it, you are claiming yourself, claiming that part of your mind with a bold declaration to the world. It’s an act of pride and trust in you.
And the fact that it hurts takes the meaning deeper. You’re willing to suffer a bit for this expression.
Within a few moments of the needle touching my skin I turned to Ryan and said, “I can see how this becomes addicting.”
It did hurt, but nothing unbearable. The most painful spot was probably a 7 and it didn’t last very long. I never felt like I needed her to stop, and it was mesmerizing to watch. I actually think the biggest pain for me was the constant wiping of the ink on the tender skin. Started to feel like rubbing your skin when you have a sunburn.
It took about 40 minutes, lots of little details to fill in, but in the end it was even better than what I had imagined.
So what does it mean?
It’s a visual representation of the phrase, bird by bird.
Bird by Bird is a book by Anne Lamont. My copy was accidentally stolen from a colleague who loaned me the book when we worked together in Egypt. So Heather Pitzel, wherever you are, if you end up reading this blog post, I apologize for stealing your book and absolutely owe you another copy and a beer. But I hope you know how much this book has meant to me and how much I appreciate the 7 year “loan”.
So why get this as a tattoo?
The opening story in the book is about the author’s brother, sitting at the dining room table with tons of books about birds. He’s procrastinated doing a research project and now he’s just overwhelmed by how much he has to do. Their father sits down with him and gently informs him that the only way to face this task is bird by bird.
One thing at a time, give it your full focus, complete something before moving your mind and your attention to another task.
This story has become something of a life mantra for me over the years, exponentially so since becoming a mother. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by the tasks and responsibilities of life. I wanted the visual reminder everyday to slow things down, focus on one thing at a time and remember that anything can be accomplished this way.
So that’s it, I’m officially inked. And feeling very narcissistic because I can’t stop admiring my own wrist.
Q saw it for the first time this morning and was very excited because he thought I got a stamp (which he associates with good behavior when he goes to gymnastics). But when I explained that it was a drawing that would be on my skin forever he was really confused.
“Did the lady put glue on it mama?” he asked.
I laughed and explained how she had used a needle to put ink into my skin so that the picture would stay forever.
He looked really confused for a few moments, then said, “oh so you were very good mama?”
I’m trying to be buddy. Everyday, bird by bird I’m trying to be very good.