Monday, December 2, 2013

A tattoo at 40

So I’ve been planning my next tattoo, a hummingbird and flowers on my shoulder, in honor of the hummingbird that flew into my house this past spring and taught me about getting myself out of depression

I remember stressing and deliberating over my first tattoo: a Celtic knotwork, moon phase, yin-yang-ish creation that I designed myself.  I got it on my lower back.  I was twenty-five, and there was no such a thing as a “tramp stamp” yet back then.  I remember being so bummed when those tattoos first became known as tramp stamps.  But it was OK, because my tattoo had meaning to me, and it was something I had designed myself.  And, I was also really glad I hadn’t gotten a butterfly tramp stamp, because that totally could have happened.

I remember sitting on that first tattoo design for a year after I drew it, waiting to make sure I wasn’t going to change my mind.  At twenty-five, it seemed like a huge commitment to get something permanently drawn onto my body. 

My friends all got together and pitched in to pay for that tattoo for my twenty-fifth birthday.  I was so touched by that, both because it felt like my community was supporting the spiritual commitment that the tattoo represented for me, and because I was living on a grad student stipend at the time and had exactly zero disposable income.

The process itself wasn’t unpleasant.  I have a very strong endorphin response to pain, so apart from the initial flinch, and a few extra-ouchy spots, I actually kind of enjoyed it.  I know, I’m weird.  I left the shop high on free brain chemicals, and totally ready to get another tattoo. 

And fifteen years went by.

I wanted more tattoos, but I wasn’t willing to get something purely for aesthetic reasons.  Then my kids were born, and I was like, “Yay!  Kids!  I will always love them, so I can totally get a kid-based tattoo!”

But I didn’t.

It felt wrong for me.  It’s right for a lot of people, but a kid-based tattoo just wasn’t right for me. 

I couldn’t figure out why.  I mean, of all the things I can make an unquestioning absolute lifelong commitment to, obviously my kids top the list.  Why didn’t I want some symbol of them inked into my bod?  I seriously considered a kid-based, mama goddess type tattoo on my stomach.  A reclaiming of the extra skin and stretch marks that so challenged me, a beautification something that was no longer beautiful by societal standards, a celebration of the part of my body that housed and nourished my kids. 

But nope.  My soul or my intuition or whatever it is that makes these decisions knew that wasn’t my next tattoo.  It was right on paper, but it wasn’t right for me.

I was bummed.  I had to keep waiting to get my second tattoo.  Crap.

In time I’ve come to realize why it was wrong for me.  Because I don’t need a reminder that I have kids.  That connection doesn’t need strengthening.  It’s already as strong as it can be.  I don’t need to reinforce that bond.  It’s already unbreakable. 

My tattoos are about making a commitment to something in such a permanent way that I will never forget.  Like a reminder to maintain balance, the knowledge that darkness is just part of a cycle and will give way to light, and that sadness can be accepted and acknowledged in the same way that joy can, without judgment or attachment.  That was my first tattoo.  Or the awareness that bliss is always within my reach.  If my patterns aren’t working, I need to try something else.  The doorway is there, I just have to find it, and it’s probably outside in nature, not on my couch.  That will be my second tattoo.

My children have already permanently marked my body.  I don’t need more.  They are already in the front of my mind most of the time.  I don’t need a reminder.  I need balance.  Something that is just for me.  This next tattoo will be that.

I’m 40.  And I’m finally getting my second tattoo, fifteen years after my first.  I still need to set up a consultation and work out the details, but I’ve crossed the critical threshold and made the decision. 

It was so much easier this time around.  Last time, I made sure it would be on a part of my body that was generally covered by clothes, because at 25, I had no idea where my life would lead.  Maybe I would have the kind of life in which a visible tattoo would be a problem at some point. 

Now I’m 40.  And I just don’t give a crap.  If there is a job or a situation or a person that wouldn’t be cool with a visible tattoo on my shoulder, they can go do anatomically unlikely things to themselves.  It’s so freeing to feel that way. 

There is a down side to not giving a crap, like when I stop doing self-care and stop showing respect for myself because I feel like I’m an invisible middle-aged woman, so what difference does it make.  But the up side is that I can do whatever I want.  I can get my nose pierced if I feel like it, even though my nose is “too big” for that.  I can get a big tattoo somewhere that will show in an evening gown.  I can have ridiculous blue hair if it makes me happy.  Wheeeee!

I know I’ll continue to change.  Fifteen years from now, no doubt I will be fifteen years more fabulous than I am right now.  I look back on my twenty-five-year-old self and she was so full of illusions, so romantic, so insecure, so shy, so worried… Also her boobs were so, so very high up.  And she was lovely.  I wish I could go back and tell her to stop worrying about her body, stop worrying about what people think.

So I’m sending my 55-year-old self back right now to tell me that.  Stop worrying.  You’re great.  Get a big damn visible tattoo, because you can and you want to.  You're beautiful.  Also, get off the couch and exercise, you lazy sack, and go to the dentist.  Stop putting that off.  But mostly, you're beautiful. Don't worry what anyone else thinks.  Just live, as big as you want to.

Live.  As big as you want to.

Because this is it.  This is what we get.  Now and now and now and now. 

Fly out that open door into the beautiful universe and live.