#OTR50 143: Me & My First Tattoo

For most of my life I’ve wanted to get a tattoo. It’s hard to define why I’ve wanted one for as long as I have. I was raised in a culture where tattoos are tabu. I was afraid as a teen to even speak the words that I wanted to do this to my body.

In my late teens and early twenties I didn’t get one because I didn’t trust my judgement. Did I want one because it was verboten? Because I knew I was different and wanted to rebel against the norm? Or was it for a more personal and complicated reason?

In my late twenties, I was involved in a fairly epic science fiction and fantasy LARP set in a universe of high tech space travel and magical fantasy. I played a character in a race that took the Gaelic and Viking outlook toward body art. The idea that one should use the art of tattoo to commemorate everything important in life. The good, the bad, etc. The game writers were detailed in explaining that their was deep respect and ritual behind the art of body inking and I loved playing a character that believed in those concepts.

When I read those words and played that character, my desire for ink made sense in a way it never had beforehand. It clicked.

I began to imagine and occasionally draw new art for myself. Inkings that would encompass personal meaning for me yet might or might not be obvious to others. I fiddled about trying to find art that would represent critical aspects of my life.

In my thirties I was wrapped up in new parenthood, launching a consultancy, and then landing into this gig I still call work. The thirties were crazy busy and hectic. They were filled with many personal highs and lows. I remember thinking, I’ll get a tattoo when I turn 32. When I turn 35. When I turn 38. 40.

All these milestones came and went and still I held off. I drew my designs on papers. I doodled them on the sides of meeting notes. My early 40s rolled in and with them my children transformed from kids into teenagers. I still had not committed.

I decided 45. 45 was a strong milestone. However, I never got around to the research on where, when, how. And then I was traveling for work on my birthday. The idea of taking time on work travel for something so deeply personal was not something I could ethically bring myself to do… my 45th birthday came and went quietly.

46 was a year of emotional trauma. I considered fulfilling that fantasy character idea that I should mark both highs and lows with body art. . . But it didn’t feel right. I wanted my first to elicit celebratory emotions — not mournful mental pain.

47 arrived and began to move forward from the trauma. I considered. . . But nothing I’d drawn in the past moved me anymore.

That year changed me. It was a paradigm shift in my lens on the world. I was now a markedly different person in some very small yet specific and powerful ways.

Time is a demon that never stops chasing me.

I started thinking about time and timelines and how I could represent my journey.

How I feel as if I am always chasing time or it is chasing me.

At some point I began looking up tattoo ideas involving arrows.

Arrows, arrows, and more arrows.

I saved about 5 images of varying complexity on my phone.

For months, one of my 17 year old kids has been asking for a tattoo. On the one hand, that cultural norm still ingrained in me from my youth said “be the parent and say no” . . . But I wanted to say yes every time.

When we were in Ireland, my kid asked again and I stopped that inner child socialized reaction from responding.

I considered about the fact that we were surrounded by a culture that celebrated body art. Where tattoo parlors are in almost every town with “walk-ins welcome” signs. I thought about the meaning behind the entire trip. I did what all modern parents do in this situations. The ones where you realize you need to be united with your spouse on the subject — because disagreeing in front of the kids on the answer would be bad. Because a united front is an important part of parenting. What did I do, I quietly texted my wife the reasons we should say yes and then pointed at my phone when she was looking at me but my kid was looking elsewhere. Ah modern parenting. . . Because we are not telepathic.

We were in agreement.

We both appreciated the concept that we will look on this art for the rest of our lives as a memory of Ireland, of meeting our friends from The Luka State, and of the possibilities life can offer us. That experiences can be powerful in unexpected ways. That for all the trauma, there can also be jubilation.

Forget magnets or t-shirts, this would be a souvenir to inspire each of us in different ways. Always with us.

We found a place that would take us all as walk-ins between people who had appointments. When it was my turn, I showed three of my five saved images.

My choice was made easier by the artist’s simple declaration, “These are all great, but we only have time for the smaller one.” Done. Decision made.

my new art might seem simple, but it is filled with deep personal meaning. It represents time: how, as we pass through, it can feel like it twists up and folds on itself. How there can be trauma in our life where it feels as if all of time is paused . . . But it doesn’t ever stop. It keeps twisting and moving around us even when we are still.

This simple design represents the past three years of my life. It’s been twisted and paused and hard to breathe . . . But it’s also moving and I’m moving with it.

Thank you Ireland for inspiring me to move past my decades long journey to select my first tattoo.

Photo prompts are by me and for me.

222 Days to go.

© Randi Sumner

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