Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

09 November 2010

A tattoo? Who? You? True - I do.

Like many people, I have a tattoo. Mine is relatively recent. It's not nearly as exciting as centaurs fucking or a flaming skeleton wrestling a shark (and yes, I know two people who have those particular tattoos), but like most body art, my tattoo is highly personal. The centaurs and the skeleton both have special meaning to the people who wear them. That only makes sense, since a tattoo is generally with you for eternity, so aside from the occasional drunken dare tattoo, most tattoos have a very personal and intimate meaning to the people who wear them. I believe that every tattoo, in addition to its permanence and physical intimacy, is a form of spiritual expression. If you don’t have any body art, ask someone who does; I’m going to bet they’ll agree with that assessment. If you do have a tat, I can see you nodding.

For those who haven't seen the pictures of my tattoo that I posted on Facebook, here they are:
See? Not very exciting. But while Facebook got the pictures first, they didn't get the story. Here's that:

I’ve written before about how the events that have occurred during my transition have shown me that I should listen to the Universe (and yeah, yeah, one day I’ll write THAT book). One of the times that I truly did listen, I heard about my tattoos. Now, at my advanced post-60 age, I had never really had any desire to have a tattoo, even after 9 years in the Navy. But one day last spring I literally woke up knowing that I HAD to have not one, but two of them. Upon actually scrutinizing this new knowledge, I found that one of these tattoos was pretty much fully formed and the other was only a concept. The fully-formed one is the one that’s here. The other one is a completely different story that doesn’t have an ending yet. That tattoo doesn’t exist anywhere except on a piece of paper and in my mind and the artist’s, so it’s not an issue for discussion – yet. I’ll only say that to go from the knowledge I had upon awaking that day to the piece of paper it now occupies took a major effort on my part. This tattoo, the one I now have, has always just … been.

This tattoo is of hedera rhombea, Japanese ivy. I didn’t know that or anything else when I started, only what it looked like; I knew that because I walk under this ivy every day. It cascades from the tree outside the front door of my apartment and shades my front window. I also knew that I didn’t care what the tattoo actually looked like as long as it was representative of this plant. I would trust the artist to render it. I knew the ivy would start at the base of my spine, right above my butt, and would grow up my spine. I would never be able to directly see this tattoo and that was OK. And finally, I knew that this tattoo would never be finished. It would start with ten leaves – one for every year since 2000, when I started transition – and would continue to grow at the rate of one leaf a year, probably added on my birthday. There is a baby leaf at the top that will be transformed into a full-grown leaf as another new baby comes into existence above it. As long as I’m alive, I will continue to grow because the ivy will continue to grow. The older portions won’t be touched and they’ll age and fade, and that will remind me of my own past and my own age as I grow. If I make it another 15 or 20 years and the ivy reaches my neck, it will then turn and grow across my left shoulder for maybe another 10 years and then down the back of my left arm. If it makes it down to my left wrist, I’ll figure out then where it will go after that.

That’s what I knew before I started. But then I did some investigating and found out more. That knowledge only reinforced my feeling that this tattoo was meant to be. Japanese Ivy is the (translated) title of the autobiography of a 14th century Japanese Zen master. Japanese ivy is a symbol of eternity because it essentially doesn’t die. It is also a symbol of protection. It is being researched for its pharmacological properties including antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-cancer compounds. It grows naturally in Asia but is rarely is found wild in this hemisphere. Yet it grows outside my apartment, but only there and nowhere else in the vicinity.

Some time after I realized that I would have tattoos, I found an artist to do the work, Karen of Spellbound Studio. She has been voted the Best Tattoo Artist in Austin for six years in a row. She’s a Reiki master and a very spiritual person. She uses only vegan inks. We connected. She was perfect. She drew up the ivy. Perfectly. But then I had to use some of my tattoo funds for an emergency and could only afford to get one tattoo. Again, I KNEW the ivy would be first; so it was. And the night before I finally went to get my living ivy art applied to my body, I had a dream of Karen working on applying yet another leaf in the vine to my shoulder at the top of my arm.

The ivy became real several months ago, so the art work is all healed now. I’ve seen it in the mirror and in pictures but I’ve never seen it directly. I never will. But despite that, I know intimately what it looks like because I can feel it there. And I know that in some way, it protects me. That may simply be that its existence spurs me to not stagnate, to grow, or it may be something more, something spiritual. And it may just be that I like the pun of knowing that something will always have my back. Because I revel in my self and my weirdness.

  • On 11/09/2010 3:38 PM, Anonymous kris said…

    I do not have any tattoos.

    My scars? My badges of honor? My markers of who I have been?

    I wear them inside.

    And they nourish me even as they remind me of difficult times.

    So I understand (I think) the notion of a tattoo and its appeal. A marker of who you were, or more spectacularly, a marking of who you are as time passes.

    The idea of adding a leaf every year? I just love that idea.

    And the fact that this tattoo protects you and gives you strength even though you cannot see it?

    Love that as well.

    Maybe I do have tattoos.


    Big love to you, babe.

    I told you I would love this story.

    Big love.

  • On 11/09/2010 4:31 PM, Blogger Jami said…

    I have my scars, outside and in, too. We all do. They're markers of self, of lessons learned, of memories. They're historic. They're intensely personal.

    Tattoos can be historic but are more like projections into the future. They'll always visibly be there. And because they're always on the outside, they can become a public representation of an internal spiritual place. They're personal, too.

  • On 11/16/2010 2:03 AM, Blogger MichaelBains said…

    My tattoos are impersonal representations of personal ideas I've "wished" were strong parts of me. But they were only $50 each so I went for 'em. :(

    No. :) Feeling too much, right now.

    I love you, Jami. Lucky bitch! lol! And I say that knowing that, for the most part, we make our own Luck. I just "wish" I could hang with peops like you in person much more often. I think my handle on my own mind would be more firm and still so very much more gentle.

    adourto! (Word Verification word. :))

  • On 11/16/2010 11:59 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    Thank you very much, Michael, for you comments, your friendship, your honesty and your love. You may know that you make your own luck, but you should also know that you make your own life. If your art is supposed to represent part of what you are, make it so. You can.


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