Beginning Stage

Made in the Flesh: What I’m Learning

I am a tattoo virgin.

There is still much that I have to learn about tattoos, but I’m gathering information and learning new things each day.

nfl-refs-meme1-600x369I’m a Philadelphia sports fan. Nothing gets under my skin (get it?) more than someone who barely knows anything about football who asks me how many Super Bowls the Eagles have won. Ha, yes, that’s funny. Tell me, what’s a pick six? Didn’t think so.

I’m venturing into this new territory carefully. Never would I want to be the person who clearly lacks knowledge about tattoos who inadvertently comes across as a snarky headache. There is a wonderful possibility that my findings below are the equivalent of someone saying, “Hey! There are nine innings in baseball!” Even if that is the case, I am happy about what I have learned and look forward to grasping even more knowledge.

Having established that tattoos are a new domain for me (other than looking at one and thinking, Ohhhh, that’s pretty!), there are certain aspects that I have learned. They are:

Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo by Terisa Green

Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo by Terisa Green

According to Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo, by Terisa Green, as soon as the skin gets penetrated with pigment, the body does everything it can to rid itself of that pigment. This, of course, makes sense because it is a foreign item entering the body. That bit of information made me realize how complicated getting a tattoo can be in that your body is trying to fight off the very thing the bearer is trying to keep. Still, it reminds me of how fascinating the body is at self-healing and self-cleansing.

Much in the same, I learned that the actual pigment passes through the epidermis and eventually resides permanently in the dermis. Green offers a “Goldilocks” method for this: “So, like Goldilocks, you don’t want it too shallow and you don’t want it too deep. You want it just right” (84). Being a novice, I appreciated the elementary analogy. The precision required here indicates how nervous I might be

Diagram of Epidermis/Dermis, courtesy

Diagram of Epidermis/Dermis, courtesy Google Images

if ever in the chair, seeing as I eye my hairdresser like a hawk when she’s trimming my bangs.

Embarrassing as it is to say, I learned…that a hockey game has three periods. No. I knew that. But, I learned that UV rays are damaging to a tattoo. (Stop laughing!) I had no idea how many precautions those with tattoos must adopt when venturing out to the beach or out for a run when the sun is out. If UV rays are dangerous to skin, why wouldn’t they be dangerous to a tattoo? Trying to keep a tattoo out of the sun as much as possible reveals a new respect I have for people with them. It takes a lot of responsibility for tattoos to remain vibrant and bright.

I also learned that people could become allergic to their tattoo ink and that the most common colors to be allergic to are red and yellow. In certain cases, ointments may be enough, but I was shocked to see that some people (though rarely) have to get their tattoo removed because of an allergy of the ink.

5 Odds and Ends Facts about Tattoos

1. According to 10 Fascinating Facts about Tattoos, the classic star logo of Macy’s was taken from a tattoo of the founder R.H. Macy’s forearm from his earlier days as a sailor.

Macy's Star, courtesy Google Images

Macy’s Star, courtesy Google Images

2. On April 12-13, 2003, Chris Goodwill tattooed Kevin Budden for a record-breaking 33 hours at the Electric Pencil Tattoo Studio in Plumstead, Greater London, UK. Goodwill tattooed eight designs on Budden. (Green 142).

Chris Goodwill tattoos Kevin Budden, courtesy Google Images

Chris Goodwill tattoos Kevin Budden, courtesy Google Images

3. Wanting to sound like an artist and not a plumber, Sutherland Macdonald, a British tattooist, used the word “tattooist” over “tattooer” (Green 117).

Sutherland Macdonald, courtesy Google Images

Sutherland Macdonald, courtesy Google Images

4. Sailors would commonly get a cross tattooed on their back in order to avoid being flogged (Green 28).

5. According to NBA Tattoos, 56% of NBA players are tattooed.

Andre Iguodala, former Philadelphia Sixers forward

Andre Iguodala, former Philadelphia Sixers forward

Despite the fact that I may have stated the obvious for some, the information is new to me, and I appreciate having learned it. Tattoos continue to intrigue me, and this tattoo virgin is excited to continue learning more about them.

As a final thought, according to Green, the indigenous Yurok of Northern California had a saying that a woman without a tattoo looked like a man when she grew old. So there you have it—I look forward to the aging process.

Green, Terisa. Ink: The Not-just-skin-deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo. New York: New American Library, 2005. Print.


What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare’s infamous line has been revived time and time again in various movies and television shows, declaring that the name of something isn’t nearly as important as the meaning behind it.

When I began my research on tattoos, I turned to Eva Tallmadge’s and Justin Taylor’s unique book, The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. Their vibrant book includes and covers photographs of tattoos that are grounded in literary works: some tattoos portray famous quotes from classic novels such as, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Other tattoos capture images of classic heroes, such as the prince who slays the Jabberwock from Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Certain images are accompanied by a small description of the personal meaning behind the tattoo or a simple explanation of what the tattoo represents to the wearer. What struck me most while flipping through these pages in awe (occasionally hopping up and saying, “But you have to look at this one!” while tapping the page incessantly) was that this micro world of literary tattoos indicated a greater macro world of individual expression within all tattoos, categories unimportant.

From Eva Talmadge's and Justin Taylor's The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide (artist and shop not provided)

From Eva Talmadge’s and Justin Taylor’s The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide (artist and shop not provided)

That is, even though all the tattoos in this book were similar in that each tattoo was inspired by a literary work, each tattoo still had its unique touch that revealed something about the wearer. For example, one need look no further than the image of the E.E. Cummings tattoo beautifully displayed across the wearer’s back (Tattoo artist and shop not provided). There is no commentary on this tattoo explaining what this represents for the person. But from it, we can see that no image accompanies it. An image would not strengthen this tattoo. The words of the poem capture the true importance of the meaning behind the tattoo.

Another tattoo that reveals quite well the mark of personal expression is three simple numbers written on the arm: “811”—the Dewey Decimal number for poetry (Metamorphosis Tattoo & Piercing, Indianapolis, Indiana). As the commentary reveals, the wearer is a librarian named Danielle who states, “I love that this number never changes. I love the nature of libraries; the exchange of information and inspiration” (page 118). For this librarian, the idea of permanence and a love of poetry inspired this tattoo. However, when we think about the macro world, in the sense that we are not limited to only tattoos that indicate literature, what would someone else get that would provide this same concept of permanence? Danielle chose to express stability in a number. What kind of tattoo would someone else get to represent that same concept?

from Eva Talmadge's and Justin Taylor's The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. (Maria Tolo at Fjord Tattoo)

from Eva Talmadge’s and Justin Taylor’s The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. (Maria Tolo at Fjord Tattoo)

Another image that catches attention is Sandra Willie’s tattoo (Maria Tolo at Fjord Tattoo) that combines all four of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series’ covers. While Meyers does not fall in the same category as Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Carroll, or E.E. Cummings, (Yes, I am aware that upon seeing Meyers mentioned at all, certain things such as water bottles and iPhones may have been thrown at the screen) this is clearly something that means a great deal to the wearer. Different from all the other tattoos covered so far, this tattoo combines the word “Believe” to the image of all four novel covers, thus assimilating each unique form of expression.

Therefore, when I think of the tattoos in this book that are “limited” to literature (I say “limited” with as little negative connotation as possible. Since the book’s theme is literary tattoos, the tattoos are inadvertently limited to one concept, but in no way do I mean to hint that it is a bad thing), each tattoo still points to the greater idea of individual expression: some people choose to portray only words while others choose to don images.

The authors write in the introduction that “the tattoos themselves make their unchangeable declaration of selfhood, meaning, and literary association in an ever-changing world.” In this way, Shakespeare’s timeless quote finds a nice spot in tattoos: it’s not the name given to each tattoo, such as “881” or simply the word “permanent” tattooed out, as it is the meaning behind each tattoo. Permanence can be represented in an assortment of ways, and we have no right to label any portrayal as the correct way, just as a rose would smell just as sweet if it were called something else.

Talmadge, Eva, and Justin Taylor. The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. New York, NY: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins Pub., 2010. Print.

I do not claim any rights over the books or the photographs presented. Full credit is given to the authors and publishers.

Fresh Canvas, Clean Slate

My body matches my research – clean surface, no markings, a canvas ready to learn. Just as my skin is free of stencils and ink, my mind is like a fresh sketchbook: filled with blank pages that soon will be laced with information, insight, and a continued appreciation.

There are several realms and topics within tattoos that I could investigate. This post will sort through ideas that I have in regard to beginning my research. While I intend to organize my thoughts, I am treating this research blog much like I treat teaching: I state now that I am not in control of where my research takes me. Teaching has proven that any amount of planning can always get erased by an outside force–inclement weather, a last-minute assembly, or a brilliant comment made by a student that switches the gears of the entire lesson. Therefore, I am laying out my ideas, but always in the back of my mind is the thought, “This can always get thrown off, and that is okay.”

Behind Door Number One: On Thursday, February 20, 2014 I attended a local workshop in South Jersey with two other eighth grade teachers. The room was freezing, the folding chairs were like sitting on metal bleachers, and the presenters were as fascinating as watching slugs race. The workshop itself was geared towards middle and high school students and attempted to highlight the economic demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers. Essentially, the workshop attempted to deter teachers from suggesting students enter fields such as psychology, philosophy, or any type of liberal arts field because they will not make money, and the need for workers is not present in those fields.

As an English teacher, I rolled my eyes. And yawned. And held my tongue as my field continued to get bashed. However, one topic the presenters addressed was tattoos in the workplace and, more specifically, during interviews. The presenters surmised that having a visible tattoo will eliminate any chance of getting hired because of the level of competition that those without tattoos bring to the table. One of the areas I am highly considering to research is tattoos in the workplace. In what fields is it acceptable to have a tattoo, and one that is visible? In what field is it frowned upon, and in what type of business is it not allowed? And why? What is it about tattoos that scares employers?

These questions lead me to Door Number Two: What images are socially acceptable? And, as such, in what locations on the body does society deem appropriate, and why? Where would a huge spider tattoo on the back of one’s calf measure up against a flower on the top right of the back? While there will be some who interpret each tattoo differently, it seems as though society has deemed certain people with certain images on certain locations as Untouchables. Why?

Door Number Three deals with athletes. I don’t have to have ESPN on longer than thirty seconds before a picture of an athlete comes up sporting a tattoo. In basketball especially (where more skin is exposed than football, baseball, or hockey), players run around the court with their forearms, necks, and legs coated in tattoos. Check out Chris Andersen, “Birdman,” and I rest my case. Why are there so many athletes with tattoos? And why is it acceptable for basketball players to run up and down the court covered in ink when it is not acceptable for business men and women?

Door Number Four attempts to analyze the motivation behind tattoos. What lies behind the need for something to permanently remain on the body? Why do some people memorialize family members while others hop into parlors giggling and saying, “I don’t really know what I want. Maybe a heart or a flower or something.”

As of now, these are the areas that I will most likely focus. Of course, a new idea could completely shift my attention. Bring on the colors. And the Birdman.