In early 2018, I went through weeks of radiation to treat breast cancer. Little did I know it would require the placement of three very tiny tattoos for the technicians to “line me up” correctly. They are permanent marks and private reminders of a time when cancer lurked in my body, hidden and deadly. They were not quite the tattoos I had in mind when I created my bucket list!
So, when the topic of tattoos came up during my Tuesday morning writing group, I was eager to hear what others had to say. As our discussions progressed, I found a tattoo buddy in the group who was as interested in getting a tattoo as I was! It soon became the mission of our group to find the best possible places for us to go. They reached out to friends and family for references, jumped in to research various artists and after a couple of weeks, we had our list of the three highest-rated and most recommended places in our area.
Tattoo Parlor Shopping
Okay, I never really thought I’d write a sentence that said “tattoo parlor shopping” but that’s exactly what we did. On a hot Friday afternoon, we set out to visit the three shops on our list.
Now, I need you to envision two white ladies of a certain age walking into a tattoo parlor and saying, quite earnestly, “We’ve never had tattoos before.” I’m surprised no one laughed out loud. We were certainly laughing at ourselves!
In retrospect, this was a bit like Goldilocks. Our first parlor was almost spa-like, with a dimly lit entryway, soft music and candles. While our questions were answered, we left feeling like we were being rushed to make an appointment.
The second place was blaring loud, death metal music and every square inch of wall space was filled with artwork. The shop was felt open and bright. We were greeted by a young man covered in tattoos and several piercings. He patiently answered all our questions and encouraged us to look online at their different styles. His kindness helped settle us down.
By the time we got to the third place, we felt like old pros. We had our basic questions for comparison to the other two shops, but more importantly, we now realized this was a decision that needed to focus on the artist – their work, their approach and how they made us feel when we were talking with them.
In the end, we both agreed on shop number two, Godspeed Tattoo. The next step was to create my story, research images for the design and decide which of the three artists at Godspeed would be best for me.
I knew a tattoo needed a good story, so the writer in me got to work. I crafted a long and crazy narrative with at least a dozen images representing everything from the goddess Athena to the ocean, a sunrise and a wolf. My Pinterest account was maxed out with so many ideas it made my head spin. I soon realized I didn’t have a body part big enough to fit all my ideas.
So, the editor in me got to work. I knew I wanted it on my right forearm so that I could see it every day as a personal reminder. But a reminder of what, exactly? Since this was going to permanent, I better be clear! I settled on one simple question: What would remind me to be my best self?
I chose three books with the top one, representing my third act, open and blank. A reminder that I write my own unique story every day. I chose a butterfly to remind me that I am always able to change and offer beauty to the world. I chose a honeysuckle vine to remind me that I’m never alone. I’m always surrounded by people who encourage me to show up as my best possible self and love me for all my faults and foibles. And one vine can have different colored flowers because magic is in the world.
Trusting the artist . . . and the process.
After hours of review on their website, I decided Campbell Alexander had the right style for me. He was also the kind man who first helped us and I felt comfortable with him. Armed with my story and my images, I set off to our design meeting.
When he saw my stack of images, he smiled, leafed through them and gently put them aside. Then he opened his calendar book and just listened.
I told him I wanted it on my forearm. It needed 3 books, a butterfly and a honeysuckle vine. That’s all he wrote in his book. That’s it. No sketches. No deep questions. Just a simple conversation. We booked a time for the tattoo and I was done in fifteen minutes. I left feeling excited, freaked out, delighted and worried. I eventually decided to just trust the artistic process. After all, I wasn’t going to have him tattoo something I didn’t like, right? In fact, it was a little bit like opening a present at Christmas; I had no idea what to expect and the leap of faith felt empowering.
On the day of my appointment, he brought out the stencil of my design and I started to cry. It was more beautiful than I had thought possible. He advised me several times that I was choosing to have it upside down on my forearm. I thanked him for his advisement but this tattoo was for me. I needed to see it and feel inspired. If others want to see it, they can cuddle up beside me and take a gander any time they want. With that decided, I proceeded to get my first tattoo
Did it hurt?
I thought the first question I’d get afterward was “why?” Instead, it seems people are more interested in my level of pain. My short answer is, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. My long answer is that I listened to the Giants game while Campbell did the outlining and began the shading. Along the way, Nick changed the playlist from heavy metal to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – a blast from my past that put me in a most mellow and happy place. We took another break to decide colors and at the end of two hours, I was the proud owner of a tattoo of my own choosing.
A new tribe
It’s been two weeks and the healing process is coming along nicely. I’ve had a wide variety of reactions but the most surprising is the willingness of fellow tattoo owners to share their stories and show me their tattoos. I’ve had a veteran share his story of loss and a young barista show me a Mariah Carey song tattooed on her side. The choice to make a permanent statement on your body is a very personal one. It isn’t for everyone, but for those that make the choice, it’s important. I am thrilled I had the courage and support to go for it!
If you are considering a tattoo or need a tattoo buddy, give me a call . . . I’m already considering my next one!