Monday, October 26, 2009

What's in a tattoo, anyway? (Part One)

I've discovered that I love getting tattooed. And while I've been interested in marking my body in a permanent way for a while, I never really thought through the evolution of my love of tattooing and being tattooed.

I was talking with a friend last night, and he asked me why it is that I've gotten so much ink lately, and I told him I have nine or ten more pieces I'm longing to get, including a large piece on my back. (Much to the horror of my mother, I'm sure...)

But here's what occurred to me. My first tattoo was in 1991, on my low back (years later to be called a "tramp stamp" damn it all...) I couldn't think of anything significant or meaningful enough to me, so I asked the woman to draw up something beautiful, art deco, that would follow the line of my body and just be a present from me to me. She drew up several pieces, and I picked one. An acquaintance from acting school went with me, and she chose one of the designs I'd rejected, and had it put on her body in the same place.

She sat with me while I got my (surprisingly painful) first ink, and it occurred to me that we'd be linked forever, this girl I barely knew, with the sister design to mine on her body, and her company while I leaned over the chair and felt the needle scratching my skin.

My second tattoo I got on a whim. Tom and I were walking down Hollywood Boulevard when we'd been dating all of two weeks. I said, "I want a tattoo." And we walked into some random shop, I drew a climbing rope on my ankle and two little stick figures, one belaying the other, and some tiny flowers. Tom and I had been climbing buddies for about a year at this point. I drew it on in ball point pen and the dude, a little stoned and uninterested in the work, put it on in all black, forgetting to add the color. $30 later, I was out the door sporting some new ink. But I wasn't thrilled. I mean, I'd drawn it on because it was what I thought of at the time, just wanting to mark me, mark a new chapter, take myself back to some extent.

Tattoos and men and I have an interesting history, that first one broke my first husband and me up. He liked clean skin, and I thought of my body as my own. It wasn't the defining moment, the actual issue, but it was enough of a wedge to serve as an excuse for both of us to annul our six month marriage. Helllllooo, Hollywood!

This tattoo I got with Tom was a small rebellion against a boyfriend who I was crazy about but who was, sadly, crazy himself. Young, wild, and trying to feel free, I made the mark.

There's more here, too... I'll write about this in a different separate post, I think... because I found out years later that that boy had put a major piece on his back about me, after we broke up. Strange to have part of your life on someone else's body.

I didn't get any ink again until seven or eight years later, just barely post pregnancy with Bodhi (well, maybe he was six months old). This piece, I thought through. This would be the Wife/Mother piece on my arm, and I did it as a piece of installation art on my body in 2003. There weren't a lot of blank English words on people's bodies at this time, and the model co-ordinator at Art Center saw the exhibition on the piece and sent it in to Skin and Ink, where it was published as a daring new trend in tattooing. I was pleased, I was daring! These two tiny tattoos were DARING!

It was exhilarating, I planned this piece in class with my favorite teacher, the amazingly intelligent and funny David Schafer, who was a bit shocked that I'd tattoo my body for a school project. I was thrilled about it because it was on my wrists, there would be no hiding it.

I planned it for months, I thought through it. I finally had a piece that was significant, that I believed in. You can read more about the Wife/Mother project and see more photos here.

This was the first time that I felt the power of conviction in my tattooing.

I've never understood why people get a picture of Garfield on their shoulder, even if you love Garfield, it just didn't make sense. But I think my little climbing guys and my filagree are the same, just masquerading as something important. These marks are significant in that they were me desiring to find something significant enough to place on my body forever. These marks to me now represent the search for the beginning of the path.

I always wanted more ink, but was nervous to be respected by having visible tattoos. Then I met my friend Tiffany Mylott, an incredibly beautiful Yoga instructor and a massage therapist, who is covered in ink, but has managed to make a collection of pieces that are significant to her, full of color and beauty, and show her character, beliefs and love right there on her body. She is no less feminine for these pieces, her beauty, already luminescent, shines brightly out of the mandala on her arm, and her tribute to her wedding day.

Emboldened by the beautiful color I saw on her, I sought out Chad at Third Chapter Tatoo in Bozeman, MT. I had seen several pieces by him on people around town, and every time I'd asked who had done that piece, the answer was Chad.

I had asked my sister about a year before what a word for patience was. This was the lesson of a year and a half, the focus of my life, Patience in skiing, in bumps, in changing edges, patience with my heart, with myself, with my kids, patience in life. Liat gave me the word Aequinemitas, meaning Patience through Peace of Mind, and I fell in love with it. I wrote it on my skis, I focused on it for a year. I then took a piece that Tom had designed for me, an art deco design showing a drop of oil unwinding in water, which reminds me also of the way the fascia feels as it lets go and loosens under my hands when I'm giving massage. Only with deep patience, and by listening to what the body wants do things change. I took the chance, and Chad did this amazingly simple, beautiful, and very technical piece on my arm. Its a hard piece to do because there is no black outline. Color only. And I loved it.

This was the first time that I understood that while you get what you want, because its your tattoo, its very important to allow the hand of the artist on your body. I was art directing Chad quite a bit at first, and he was gracious to me. By the time we'd got going, I had let go a little and as he asked me if I wanted shading or not, I told him, "Do your thing, make it beautiful".. Suddenly, Chad was enjoying himself as well.

For the rest of the story on the Aequinemitas tatto, click HERE to read the detailed post.

The next chapter, coming tonight, my new tattoo, and what it means to feel it heal.


John Poole said...

Kate, where does "Aequinemitas" actually come from? I tried Googling and the only hit I got was your blog! ~John :-)

a said...

Hey, John! My little sister found it for me, she studied Latin at Vanderbilt for four years, and finding obscure and beautiful words is her passion. I'm lucky because she has access to all these ancient texts and can actually read them!

a said...

I found it used here with a slightly different meaning and a slightly different spelling: Art of Medicine, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Physician Experience

Osler’s famous essay was first delivered as a valedictory address at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1889. Osler urges the graduates to develop two qualities or virtues. First is the "bodily" virtue of imperturbability or "a judicious measure of obtuseness." This means the outward expression of calmness and coolness, even under difficult circumstances. This virtue suggests that physicians should be relatively "insensible" to the slings-and-arrows of patient care, always maintaining a degree of detachment from their patients.

The complementary "mental" virtue is aequanimitas, which is the personal quality of calmly accepting whatever comes in life. These virtues, however, should not lead to "hardness" in dealing with patients. Osler also urges his students and colleagues to develop the other gentlemanly virtues of courage, patience, and honor.

a said...
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John Poole said...

Thanks for the substantial explanation Kate! I really appreciate it. I like to collect (so to speak) interesting words, and this one is definitely going in my book! ;-) ~John