Yesterday I got a tattoo. It’s bright and elaborate and it’s right there on my forearm: a bird stringing beads as I do with words, beads escaping the ends of the string but ready to be picked back up and eventually restrung. The bird is masked, and there are three rhododendron blossoms, which, according to the farmers almanac, indicate a warning. One which that fierce little bird is clearly disregarding.
It’s hard to explain why this tattoo was important to me. Maybe it’s part of an ongoing search for identity. Maybe it was just for fun, or an indication of a midlife crisis. Maybe I wanted something to regret, or brag about, or hide. It’s not an accident that I’m keeping it up my sleeve.
After I got home late last night, my arm sore and beginning to swell, I lay in bed a long time thinking about what it felt like to cross this arbitrary divide. I felt unfamiliar to myself. I mourned my virgin skin. I wondered what it will be like to talk about my tattoo while it’s new, and what it will look like later when my skin begins to loosen, how the beautiful colors will fade and crease like fabric—and how that will be okay, because I have decided to make this artwork a part of my life experience and that includes the mixed emotions art tends to generate. I want to accept other people’s opinions on my appearance the way I’m learning to accept them on the stuff I write and publish. I like the complication, the mixed emotions. I think it’s healthy to continue to surprise yourself as time goes by.
The tattooer, who played a raunchy podcast for almost the entire four hours I spent with him, said we all should die at forty. But I am forty-five. And by god, I want to live.
How do you surprise yourself?