Be Yourself

in permanent ink

Heart of the Dragon: Socotra, Yemen 2010. Dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena cinnabar)
‘Glimpsing the dragon’s blood trees that mantle the Haghier Mountains, one can imagine that this is what the world looked like millions of years ago. Living up to 500 years, these bizarre trees are unique to the island of Socotra. Growing in severe conditions, they have raised their branches upward over time in an effort to obtain moisture from the highland mists – hence the distinct appearance of their canopies, like an umbrella blown inside out. ‘ 

Round 1
After a couple years of imagining and fantasizing and planning, I finally sat down on Sunday with the brilliantly talented Rachel Kolar at True Blue Tattoo in Austin and got to work on my left arm sleeve. This is my second piece with Rachel, and after getting my right arm done in 2011, I knew I had found my artistic, inky siren. She has always been able to take my collage of images and concepts and ideas and hopes and turn them into something magical. She just gets me, and that is rare and amazing.

Like most of my favorite things in life, my tattoo creation experiences are big, messy, beautiful, organic processes that take time, creativity, patience, and trust. They are the ultimate union of self love, communication, aftercare, and human connection. This piece is, for me, the pinnacle to end a year of recovery, rebirth, and finding my way back to honoring the highest and best in myself. It’s about being totally in love with my body for the first time in my life. It’s about self awareness, gratitude, Gaia, Ganesha, and always, always knowing that I have everything I need, right now, inside myself. It’s about my pact with the sea and the stars. It’s about trips to outer space. It’s about the deep circles of life that are ancient and infinite. It’s about the moon being in love with the sun. It’s about manifestation, and being present, and always, always, it is about love.
So yes, getting tattooed hurts like fuck all – before – at the root, on the inside, the shattered, tied up, healed up heart -at the time – deeply, intensely, deeper and longer and weirder than you imagine, where your leg twitches and your ears burn and you have to go inside and take Donato Dozzy with you to get through – and after – while you heal, and burn, and ache, and itch. 
Your power and your pain merge and fuse. And then, finally, beautifully, you are new.
A woman I will kindly allow to remain anonymous asked me today, with a squinty look of disapproval as she eyed my fresh outline, “So did you used to cut yourself or something?”
I stared at her. “Yes. Yes I did.” Are you scared? Disgusted? Appalled? 
It’s okay. Try to pay attention to the next part. 
People get tattooed for lots of reasons, some of which are way different than mine, so I certainly don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself. There’s no way to accurately convey the motivation or burning desire to adorn yourself in permanent color so everyone can see your power and your pain to people who don’t get it, who think it’s trashy, or immoral, or can’t possibly understand how something so arduous and painful and serious would be necessary or enjoyable. They can’t understand that without this expression, you are not yourself. How do you explain transcendence and metamorphosis to someone who can only experience a limited range of emotional depth?  
You can’t. You’re just judged. And that’s totally okay. I welcome your questions and your judgement. I know who I am. And I want you to see. I need to see. It’s there in front of me because I am made how I am supposed to be through the needle. A reminder. My heart is on my sleeve, right there, where everyone can see it. 
Tattoos are a sacred, intensely spiritual and meaningful choice. They are a lifestyle. Tattoos are art. Tattoos are recognition and acceptance of the impermanence of life and flesh and everything we know. I am part of a tribe of people who feel their bodies and lives and hearts are not complete without these words and pictures on our skin. We get tattooed to express on the outside who we need to be, who we are on the inside. We find an artist who can make us whole in this way, and we trust her to write love on our arms. We find people and jobs who understand we need this, who see our beauty, who accept and admire and understand. And these works of art and love and tears become as familiar as our eyes and faces and arms and legs. You stop seeing a stereotype, and see a whole person, just as they should be. 
How do you know what gets written in flesh? What do your tattoos mean to you? What do you listen to? Where do you go? Tell me. Tattoo worship is a go. 

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