The other night I made a post wherein I paraphrased a quote from John Irving’s 1981 novel, The Hotel New Hampshire, and stated:
“It’s easy to keep passing the open windows, but it’s getting harder & harder to keep passing the open tattoo parlors.”
I didn’t anticipate any responses in particular: it was flippantly typed, perhaps, in the light of recent events, too flippantly in its reference of suicide, but those who know me are aware of at least two things: I have a mordant sense of humor, and I really want to get some more tattoos. I was surprised to see that the comments made about the post referenced the tattoo parlors, and not the suicide associated Irving quote. Perhaps no one who responded had read The Hotel New Hampshire (an error to be corrected by anyone who hasn’t read the book–it’s quite marvelous, as is almost everything he’s written) or listened to the song by Queen (it’s not one of their best known, but it has a catchy tune.) In any case, all the responses regarded the subject of tattoos, and those by one friend in particular were not in their favor. I don’t generally spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook, but today it was something I preferred to consider rather than the beheading of journalists in the desert, Cee Lo’s mind-boggling stupidity and gall, or the latest fuckery of Justin Bieber and Chris Brown. And it occurred to me that I like tattoos and I wanted to come to their defense. And since my blog following reaches strangers who never see my Facebook posts, I decided I would reproduce my Facebook post here. It’s probably more ego than altruism…
One of the most wonderful things about being human beings is our freedom of choice and all of the choices we have available to us. Every one of us reads and appreciates different books, listens to different music, delights in different cuisines, thrills to watching a variety of films and television shows, and we all adorn our bodies in a variety of fashion, manner, and taste. Variety is an integral, even essential part of our lives. Not everyone appreciates tattoos, and that is as it should be. But I believe it must be agreed upon that while there are good and bad tattoos–just as there are good and bad books, movies, tv shows, restaurants, recipes, songs, and artists–tattoos, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad, they simply are. I will neither speak of or judge other people’s tattoos: it is inappropriate for me, or anyone else, to do so.
Speaking of my own, I can only say that they were far from impulsive; I did not get my first until I was over 40, and I chose a reputable tattooist who explained to me the process from beginning to end, clarifying that like any painting or wall, a tattoo requires occasional restoration and care to prevent it from becoming an “unrecognizable blob of regret.” Just as a plant not watered or a pet not fed will wither and die, so will a tattoo that is not occasionally re-inked. My tattoos were far from impulsive, I contemplated their inception for–quite literally–several years before having needle applied to skin. I did not get my first tattoo at any pivotal time of my life, but when I decided it was time. I received my second on the day of Julia Child’s centennial, and chose to have 3 tattoos done at the same time because the first one was no more of an inconvenience than a manicure.
The choices I made for them are no less thought out: symbolic in their own right as an acceptance of mortality, The Deathly Hallows represent twelve years of my life as a bookseller and my inclusion in what is arguably the most phenomenal literary experience of the last 20 years, if not longer.
Were it within my power, Julia Child would be beatified: she has done more to enhance the tables of our land than anyone currently on the Food Network. Furthermore, she is truly the patron saint of second chances, successfully embarking upon a new vocation at middle age. She is an example to us all and seeing “Ecole Des 3 Gormandes” before me each day is a reminder to me of her fortitude.
I have seen The Wizard of Oz more often than any movie ever made, and the sentiment expressed by the immortal and inimitable Judy Garland in her signature song, “Over the Rainbow” is one of wistful optimism and hope. Reading Gregory Maguire’s Wicked… allowed me to embrace and admire a character who filled me with nothing but fear for over 20 years, and hearing and seeing performed the song “Defying Gravity” in the same titled musical was to witness an anthem of individuality, of being your own moral compass. Thus, having the mash-up of “Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me… So if you care to find me, look to the western sky” offers me a daily reminder of the importance of hope and integrity.
Jaws is the first movie I ever saw in a theatre that wasn’t produced by Walt Disney. I have seen it nearly as much as The Wizard of Oz, and have written of it and its importance to me and to the world here and in other places. I have held a love of sharks in my heart for 40 years, and as they continue to live in peril in the sea, I am proud to have my earliest childhood hero a permanent part of me.
Tattoos, at their best, have far greater import than the fashion statement of a tattoo printed t-shirt. They often offer, as mine do, moments, people, and ideas of personal impact. They may be indications of social and societal significance, and in some cultures are even a part of the spiritual/religious mien. Although I am an intensely secular adult, I was raised catholic and can fully appreciate the ritual, even sacramental, experience of being tattooed. In any case, a tattoo harms no one but the person being tattooed, and thus, is really just the business of the person getting the tattoo, as long as they have attained their majority and thought the process through. And even if the individual is a 19-year-old acting out and they realize that a unicorn tramp stamp was not the best idea, what is any mistake but a learning experience? And how do we grow but by learning from our mistakes?
As I stated earlier in what has become a remarkably long post (congratulations if you’ve made it this far) there are good tattoos and bad tattoos. Only bad tattoos are ugly. I hope I’m not being immodest when I state that I am generally a promoter of good taste and that my existing tattoos are, and those yet to come will be, in the best of taste and are an enhancement to my general appearance. I’ve received nothing but complements for them, from people of all ages. Like anything, it can become addictive, and like everything, tattooing should probably approached with the Delphic ideal of “Nothing too Much,” though I must admit that I have always sided with the divine Oscar, who stated “Enough is as good as a meal. Too much is a feast.” Come to think of it, that would make a marvelous tattoo!!