Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tattoos, and stuff.

Over at Bells' blog, she shows a photo of her tattoo (a nice tree of life design) and an explanation on why she chose it. She asked for stories about other people's tattoos, and so I thought I'd discuss mine. (This would make a fine meme, so if you've got a tattoo, consider yourself tagged. Cough up a photo and the story of when and why you got it.)

This is on my left wrist, known as a 'bracelet' tat.

You all may have noticed I have a pretty significant interest in history. It's strange, though, because being adopted, I don't know what my own personal history really is. My adoption records list my cultural/genetic heritage as "Northern Europe", and I was born and raised in an area populated by German settlers, so I figured there was some kind of German/Viking thing going on. Then my hair started turning silver in big streaks and I assumed there was some Celtic mixed in, somewhere - it's not an unusual combination. (Prematurely silver hair - mine started turning white when I was sixteen - is a recessive gene found in a lot of Celtic-dominated groups, much like red hair is found among the Norse.)

I had always wanted a tattoo, since I was a kid, so when I turned eighteen I got serious and started looking around at tattoo designs. Quite early-on I got the idea of Celtic knotwork (this was 1987 or so, long before the huge popularity of all things Celtic). Celtic knotwork, while kind of Celtic, was also a design used among the Norse and later societies like the Anglo-Saxons. So I figured it covered all the bases in terms of what my heritage probably was. Plus, I liked how it looked. That was a biggie - I sure wasn't getting a tattoo of something I didn't like, heritage be damned.

Then came finding the EXACT knotwork design. That actually took the longest. From 1987 to 1993, I scrounged through libraries and later web sites, looking at all the knotwork I could find, and nothing really spoke to me. Then, Morgan Llywelyn published her book "Finn MacCool", a novelization of an Irish folk tale, and there, on the cover, was the knotwork I wanted. (She's an Irish history/culture scholar who, in between publishing scholarly works, writes wonderful novelizations of ancient Irish myth. Try "Red Branch", the easiest-read and most entertaining version of the Ulter Cycle that I've ever encountered.)

At the time, we were getting ready to move to Hawaii, and the husbeast pointed out that we had one of the best tattoo parlors on the East Coast, Ancient Art, right down the road in Yorktown, and if I wanted the tat, I should haul ass down there and get it.

So I did.

I walked into the place, slapped the book on the counter, and said, "I want this, around my wrist." the guy working that day peered at it and said, oh, you want ____ (I forget his name), he specializes in knotwork tats." and went and got someone else. We talked about how exactly I wanted the tat - how big, solid or shaded, outlined or not, etc - we had a major disagreement over color (he wanted to outline it in black, I insisted on woad blue for the whole thing; I won, it's my arm), and he told me to come back in three days for the actual tat. (I found out later, that's the policy with a lot of really reputable places, when you go in looking like a conservative librarian, and demand a tattoo - even if they have the time right then, they make you wait, to be sure you want it.) Three days later, I went back. It took about an hour.

At the time, I was working as an accounting clerk, and got the tat on my left wrist, figuring I could cover it with a watch or a big cuff bracelet as needed. Obviously, when you're working with people's money, you need to look trustworthy, and fifteen years ago, tattoos on females were a big no-no in terms of looking reliable. (They still aren't smiled upon, in most of the US, though they're starting to chill out a little, depending on the tattoo and where it is on your body.) What I didn't count on, though, was the total unobservant-ness of the non-tattooed world. People with tattoos or an intest in them will spot my tat immediately and ask about it. People who don't? Sometimes they never notice. I've had people who've known me for years in some cases all of a sudden gasp and ask me when I got a tattoo - the answer is always "Before you met me."

Just last month at my gym, the owner of the place was doing my weigh and measure. She laid her finger on my tattoo, started laughing, and said "When did you get this?" and I said "Uh, 1993?" and she kept laughing and admitted she had just noticed it. She, at least, had seen enough tattoos to realize it was old and she was unobservant. I assume most people see it and their brains think 'bracelet' and it just doen't process.

When I lived in Hawaii, I got a lot of questions over it. People would ask if it was an "Island" tattoo, meaning Polynesian, because knotwork has a strong resemblance to some of the carvings done by the Maori in New Zealand. And I would explain yes, it was an island tattoo, but the island was Ireland. And we would have a nice talk about the similarities and differences in our cultures, whatever they were.

At the moment I am designing another tattoo - an arm band for my right bicep, of flowers from all the places I've lived. And I have promised myself that if this working out thing does the trick and I wind up with abdominal muscles I'm willing to bare in public, I will get a belly tattoo. Though that probably won't happen, the abs OR the tattoo. Hope springs eternal.


Amy Lane said...

So totally cool. My tatoo stories aren't quite that neat, but I'll have Chicken take some pictures. (Of course my luck with pictures is total crap right now...that's three times I"ve tried to upload the Cave Troll's b-day party and it just ain't happenin'.)

Anonymous said...

I have a tattoo of Jupiter above my left elbow. It's going to be part of a pair, whenever I get the time and money. The other half is going to be Voyager (probe, not star trek) above my right elbow. Not much significance. I really, really like space and the planetary system. There's a picture on my blog if you scroll down a bit.

Donna Lee said...

I like your braid. And I see there is the requisite space left so that your spirit can leave your body when you die or you become an undead. At least that's what the tattoo artist told me when she did my ankle. There is a tiny space left so that I don't become an "undead". Superstitions are everywhere.

Bells said...

Oh thanks to Donna Lee for explaining the gap. That's nice.

I've always noticed your tatt in photos Julie, and liked it. I'm keen on a wrist one some time I think.

Anonymous said...

Cool. You put a lot of thought into that. If I ever get a tattoo, I'm going to do some kind of design (I'll probably have my mom draw it) that incorporates my kids' names.

gemma said...

Excellent tat, been building up to one for a year or so now, but had not thought about on my wrist, will show photos if and when it happens.

totally unrelated, there's a tropical cyclone building northern Qld, that the bureau have named TC Guba (goober), hee hee, just like the little one!

Alwen said...

By the time I was old enough to get a tattoo, I knew myself well enough not to get one -- I tend to fall in love with designs for five, seven, ten years, then I'm done.

On the other hand, I have a lot of holes in the "wrong" ear, because I grew up in West Outer Nowhere (that would be north of where I live now, Southwest Outer Nowhere), and had no idea ear piercing was supposed to say anything about my sexuality!

(And now it's been well over the ten years, and . . . I'm over 'em.)


Louiz said...

Very cool tattoo. I keep meaning to get one done, but am always stumped as to where and what.

And people don't notice stuff. Try this: Wear a badge or sticker with "I know you are not going to read this" on it. And no one will!

Roxie said...

I have seen old sailors with tattoos that are just blue blurs, and I look at the young women with tattoos on soft flesh that will stretch and droop, and I wonder what we can expect to see in 30 years. Your tatt is elegant and classic, and will remain so even as it ages. Mickey Mouse flipping the bird on a high, firm breast is likely to undergo some appalling changes. It's SO important to choose wisely!

Catie said...

This tatoo that you are currently designing sounds interesting (and I like your bracelet one too) - will you leave space for other flowers/expand it if you move?

Caroline said...

That thing about the silver hair gene really got my attention. I have something similar, although I've had my blond streak since I was a baby. Noone else in my family has it. Now you've got me curious about the genetics behind it (I've already tried to get my mom to tell me that I hit my head as a baby, but she refuses, so I guess that's not it).