Life Lessons from the Tattoo Shop

Spring is off to a cool start.  The radishes and turnips have sprouted but the sprouts are not growing because of the temperature.  Broccoli, cabbage, spinach and onions are patiently waiting under my basement grow light to be transplanted to the garden.  The bees are getting brief tastes of spring, but the persistent cool temperatures are keeping them in the hives.  What is a gardening beekeeper to do in times like these?  Of course, the obvious answer is to go and get a tattoo.

This spring I got my first tattoo at the age of 49.  Anyone under 30 who reads this will probably say, “So what?”  To those people I say, “Gather around young ones and let me tell you a story from the past.”  Once upon a time, tattoos were not as mainstream as they are today.  Prisoners, men in the military, and biker gang members were the groups typically associated with tattoos.  In this same period, women were governed by very strict societal rules.  Ladies never wore white after Labor Day and before Easter.  Purses had to match shoes.  A lady never wore a dress without wearing stockings, and you never wore a sleeveless dress to church because it was not proper to show your bare shoulders.  In a world where the sky would fall if you mixed black and navy-blue articles of clothing, a woman with a prominently displayed tattoo was inconceivable. 

I briefly contemplated getting a tattoo in my early twenties, but my husband was strongly opposed.  I didn’t feel like pushing the point because there are so many other interesting things to disagree about as a young married couple such as where to spend Christmas, the temperature to set the thermostat, and the proper way to tuck the bedsheets.  My husband has very strong preferences on how to tuck the bedsheets.  I like the sheets completely untucked so I can toss and turn unfettered in the night.  With such drastic differences in sheet preferences, it is amazing that we have been married over 27 years.

The pandemic changed me in many ways, as I am sure it changed many of you.  A tattoo seemed like the appropriate way to embrace that change and to commemorate the experience that we all endured.  Thus, my journey down the tattoo rabbit hole began.  The entire process from idea to ink on the arm took about two months.  Here is what I learned during that process.

  • Not everybody likes tattoos, and that’s fine.  – Some people really have strong, negative feelings about tattoos, so those people should probably not get tattoos.  You don’t need to try to stop other people from getting tattoos.  I don’t like to eat curry, but I don’t go around telling other people that they shouldn’t eat curry.
  • Tattoos are art. – Tattoo artists create the drawings that go on your body.  I gave my tattoo artist very little direction.  I said I wanted dogwood blossoms on my forearm.  I provided one reference picture and then asked him to create something.  What he created was better than anything I could have directed him to design.  If you are getting a tattoo, research the artists and find someone that specializes in the style you like.  Turn the artist loose and let them create something for you. Think of a tattoo as art that you are wearing.
  • Tattoos are empowering for women.  – Tattoos may also be empowering for men, but I don’t know because I have only lived as a woman.  I still don’t understand men.  Women are taught from a very young age to hate everything about their bodies.  At any given point in time, we are trying to decide if we should look thin like Kate Moss, fit like J-Lo, or curvy like Beyoncé.  Marketers bombard us with messaging that everything from our eyebrows to our toenails to our skin are hideous and in need of fixing.  For me, the tattoo was a way to take control of my body and make peace with it.  I suddenly like my body in a way that I never have before.  I am curious if others had similar experiences.  If you did, then please let me know in the comments. 
  • The pain is part of the process. – Everybody wants to know if getting a tattoo hurts, so let’s talk about it.  Yes, tattoos hurt.  A needle is being put into your skin repeatedly, so you are going to notice it.  The body location of the tattoo has a lot to do with the pain level.  Bony locations with thin skin like the feet and ribs usually hurt more.  The forearm doesn’t hurt that much.  On a 1-10 scale, the pain of my tattoo fluctuated between 4 and 6. 
  • You need all kinds of friends in your life. – If you read my previous post about 10 things to do before you turn 50, you will know that I am a big believer in building a network of close friends around you.  I refer to this group as a tribe.  Friends bring you joy.  Humans were created for connection with other humans.  I am blessed with a very diverse group of friends.  I have friends that make sure I read my Bible, friends that remind me to fertilize my asparagus, friends that take me to new restaurants, and friends I eat s’mores with on summer nights.  I am also blessed to have some friends that don’t question my motivation for getting a tattoo.  Those friends send text messages that say: “You should do it!”  “Let me know if you need a ride or die to go with you.”  I strive to be a good friend.  Some things I’m good at and some things I am not.  I am the friend you can count on to give you pep talks and to always take your side in an argument.  I am not the friend to call if you need someone to tell you to take your head out of your backside and put on your big girl pants.  Tough love speeches aren’t my thing.  The tattoo experience has made me realize that I want to be the kind of friend that can always be counted on to say, “Go for it, and I will be your ride or die if you need me.”
  • Tattoos are addictive. – “You will be calling me in two weeks to schedule your next tattoo,” my tattoo artist said when we were finished.  Most people with tattoos will tell you that they want more tattoos.  I understand this now.  The endorphin hit you get from a tattoo is big, and you get that endorphin hit whenever you look at your tattoo.  After my first tattoo healed, I began thinking about how I would like to get another tattoo. However, I have no immediate plans to get another tattoo. You see, my husband still doesn’t like tattoos.  He knew the dogwood tattoo was important to me, so he reluctantly went along with it out of love.  Getting Doug on board with a black and grey side piece tattoo will be much harder than convincing him to change the way we tuck the bedsheets.  I don’t have the energy for it.  Marriage is about compromise, and one tattoo seems like a pretty good compromise to me.

The garden isn’t growing.  The bees aren’t flying, and we are all waiting for warmer weather.  I’m not concerned, though.  For me the dogwoods are always in bloom.

Tattoo picture on day 1 when the skin was a little irritated and the tattoo was still covered by the second skin bandage.

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