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Books: Not Just For Looking At

The semester in a nutshell, courtesy Google Images

The semester in a nutshell, courtesy Google Images

I haven’t slept since January. Or eaten. (Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve eaten.) This semester has not been a piece of cake, and in this blog post, I recap the interviews and outings I have done throughout the last few months and tie them into the readings about my interviewing strategy. The beginning part of my research methods class was reading heavy; the latter half of the semester was applying strategies gleaned from the various articles and books to work out in the field. So far, here is how I’ve put those methods to work:

Primarily relying on Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F.

Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein

Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein

Gubrium and James A. Holstein as well as Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw, I went into my first interview (in-person) armed with various strategies. Having never interviewed anyone before, I held fast to their recommendations, feeling like a lost tourist in a big city clutching a map. Postmodern Interviewing sanctions that “the interviewer must establish a climate for mutual disclosure. The interview should be an occasion that displays the interviewer’s willingness to share his or her own feelings and deepest thoughts” (72).

Remembering this advice, I made to sure discuss personal matters that dealt with teaching to create an environment conducive to sharing. I felt that swapping teaching stories from earlier that day also helped supply me with credibility since the respondent was a fellow teacher. Despite the fact that this strategy was helpful, I couldn’t help but feel that the interview remained stiff. That is, I was sharing stories of my own, but the “mutual” part wasn’t coming through, the flow was off. I felt that it was still me asking a question and getting an answer. Me asking a question and getting an answer. Repeat.

When I conducted my second in-person interview about tattoos with an administrator, I felt that the interview ebbed

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Second Edition, by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Second Edition, by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw

much better. I relied on Postmodern Interviewing’s strategy of treating the interview as “a kind of ‘improvisational’ performance” (75). While I had two set questions in my head that I specifically wanted answered to help me tighten the focus of my feature article, I went into the interview letting the wind take us wherever it went. Postmodern Interviewing continues that “The production is spontaneous, yet structured…focused within loose parameters provided by the interviewer, who is also an active participant” (75). In this way, by having two set questions but not controlling where the interview went by always taking the respondent back to a certain point, I accomplished the “improvisational performance,” and it was quite fun. While our discussion primarily focused on tattoos in the workplace, it deviated to other, related matters such as piercings, and certainly held all of the qualifications of a rich conversation.

In addition, I went to the Skindustry Expo (my first outing into the field) armed with a few methods. At the end of March, I was still relatively new to the interviewing process (not that I’m essentially an “expert” in it now, but I acquired much more experience in interviewing since attending the expo). There was so much to look at (and listen to) when Susette and I entered the expo that it was overwhelming at first. While I wanted to take out my notebook and start jotting right away, I did not do so because I wanted to continue to look around, to get a feel for the environment before I tore my eyes away to write it all down. Writing for Ethnographic Fieldnotes states that “in most social settings, writing down what is taking place as it occurs is a strange, marginalizing activity that marks the writer as an observer rather than a full, ordinary participant” (43). Indeed, words like “strange,” “marginalizing,” and “ordinary” were exactly what I felt. Afraid that taking out my notebook would give me away (despite the fact that I had no visible tattoos, clearly the more obvious give-away) I postponed taking it out right away. Eventually, when I did, I was afraid that everyone was looking at me, but soothed my anxiety by telling myself that maybe they thought I was writing down ideas for a tattoo. (Yeah, keep dreaming.) Writing for Ethnographic Field Notes urges, “Only those phrases actually quoted verbatim should be placed between quotation marks; all others should be recorded as indirect quotations or paraphrases” (63). Not wanting to misquote somebody, I furiously wrote down (abbreviating where necessary) dialogue that I felt was crucial to my topics, and when I blogged about the event, I made sure to put the words of the experts into quotations. When I could only remember bits and pieces of what they said, or a jist of their advice, I neglected the use of quotation marks because it would have been inappropriate. Instead, I paraphrased or put a comma without quotation marks. The doctor at the tattoo laser removal booth was excellent practice for me. I wrote down his words in particular because as he was explaining the removal process to Susette, I was learning. It was like “Tattoo Removal 101,” and I tried to absorb as much as I could.

My online interviews were also heavily influenced by the readings from class. Going back to Postmodern Interviewing, when I conducted several e-mail interviews, I looked towards this advice: “answers are not meant to be conclusive, but instead serve to further the agenda for discussion…a team effort.” While I sent the four respondents the same questions via Facebook messaging, their answers all varied, and I analyzed those answers in order to send follow-up questions via e-mail. In this way, their answers were not the end of the road, but rather lended themselves to “further[ing] the agenda of discussion,” as Postmodern Interviewing indicates.

Overall, after conducting both in-person and online interviews as well as going out into the field for my outings, it is clear that interviewing is not a “one size fits all” process. What works for one interview or outing may or may not fit another interview or outing. Thus, Gubrium’s idea that “ownership can be a joint or collaborative manner” (41) holds true. If interviewing is truly a “joint or collaborative” process, then no two interviews will be exactly alike because each person brings something new to the table.

Hmm..table. Perhaps now it’s time to eat. And sleep.

The way I feel, courtesy Google Images

The way I feel after learning so much, courtesy Google Images

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Lookings

Lookings, Part 1 – Body Graphics, Pennsauken, New Jersey: Tom and Pixie 

As I drove down Route 70 on my way to Body Graphics in Pennsauken, New Jersey, on Friday, April 18, 2014 around 12:30 P.M., I didn’t know what to expect. While I had attended the Skindustry Expo with Susette, I had never set foot into an actual tattoo parlor before. Horror stories of chintzy, Vegas-like neon signs flashing into a dark, leaky alleyway streaked through my mind.

When I entered the shop, a clean, tropical aroma draped itself around me and seemed to cast out any reservations I had. Hardwood floors gleamed up at me, and potted plants were speckled around the room. Around the walls of the front desk room were various forms of artwork. There was nobody else in the room, and I looked around, feeling suddenly comfortable.

Not long after I entered the shop, a man in a black shirt, dark hair and beard, and black glasses came around and walked behind the desk.

“Hi,” I said walking over to him. Then hesitantly, “Are you Tom?”

“Yes,” he said and sat down at one of the two empty chairs behind the front desk. Tom and I had been playing phone tag and trying to meet for about a month. When I originally called Body Graphics back in the beginning of March, Tom was all too happy to donate some of his time for walking me through what happens when a customer comes in looking to get a tattoo. Unfortunately, our schedules seemed to always conflict. Finally, the stars aligned, and Tom and I were both available on the same day at the same time.

“Hi, I’m Rachel,” I said.

We exchanged greetings, and I thanked him right away for taking the time to walk me through his experiences.

“I know that you don’t work every day, but on days that you are here, how many people would you say you get?” I asked, diving right in.

Tom indicated that it varies. “It could be one to two people, or it could be five to six.” It depends on the day.

Another woman came into the room and sat at the second chair. She had facial piercings, and when she spoke, I recognized her voice. I assumed she was Pixie, the woman who usually answered the phone at Body Graphics when I called (several times, thanks to my busy schedule) to work out a meeting with Tom.

Tom continued by informing me that when someone came in for a tattoo, he usually sets up a 30 minute consultation appointment first to go over what they are looking for. He said that he likes to find out “what they like and what they don’t like” in a tattoo.

Pixie indicated that some people come in expecting to get the entire consultation and tattoo done in one day. Both Tom and Pixie recapped a man who had come in expecting to get a rose on his torso, two roses on his chest, ivy vines connected them wrapping around his neck, and some lettering on it done in one day. Tom had compromised by simply tattooing one of the roses onto the man’s torso, and the man came back later to get the rest of the tattoo finished. However, Tom made a thought-provoking comment when he indicated that certain tattoos need more than one session. I knew that larger tattoos usually required more than one sitting, but what I hadn’t thought about, what Tom enlightened me with, was how much time in-between sessions there should be. Tattoos typically need at least three weeks to heal, and Tom said that he likes to wait at least that long to give the tattoo the necessary time to properly heal before adding to it.

“Your immune system can only take so much,” he said. And he raised a good point. If your immune system is working overtime trying to heal a tattoo, it would not be a good idea to take on more than it can handle.

I then asked Tom how he felt about customers who came in who had frivolous, non-committal ideas about a tattoo. Customers who wanted a tattoo just for the sake of getting one. Tom said that he gets customers like that and he does his best to work with them to get a good idea about what they are looking for. Pixie, who runs the front desk and is a piercer there, could attest to this, as well, since she sees all of the customers who enter the shop. She indicated that usually they look at the flashes but that generally they decide what they want and leave a large part of it up to the tattoo artist.

This idea of trust caused me to think about the other side of the spectrum: “What about people who come in knowing exactly what they want who don’t like to bend on ideas?” I asked.

Both Tom and Pixie were able to give me information about this. Pixie said that usually customers like that will come in to the shop with a print-out or a picture on their phone, and they want to stick pretty closely to it. Tom indicated that when customers don’t give a lot of freedom to the tattoo artist (“you know, like when they say they want this design and six leaves in the background”) it can weigh a toll on the tattoo overall. If the tattoo is spelled out to the “t,” it can often weaken the tattoo overall because there is less room for creativity. Pixie agreed with what Tom said.

I asked which they prefer: a customer who has no clue about what they want, or a customer who knows exactly what they are looking for and watches them like a hawk. Tom and Pixie agreed that a balance between the two is ideal. You want someone who knows what they want but can still give you some freedom with it. A happy medium is ideal.

I told both of them about Susette and how she had gotten a tattoo at the Skindustry Expo. I recalled a comment that Susette had made, noting how she likes giving the tattoo artist a lot of room to work in his own style and that each tattoo she gets is also a reflection of the tattoo artist and how he/she interprets the tattoo. When I relayed this to Tom, he was impressed and happy to hear that. I went on to say how the sketch of her tattoo included a quill, yet the quill appeared to be left uncolored in the sketch. When the tattoo was finished, the tattoo artist had filled in the quill with black shading. Tom indicated that that was all part of getting a tattoo, letting the tattoo artist take over. Susette was extremely pleased with the outcome of the tattoo, and when I had asked her about the quill, she expressed that she didn’t know he was going to do that but that she thought it looked great.

Thinking back on Susette’s experience, I asked Tom and Pixie how they usually decide on pricing for tattoos. I commented how, at the Skindustry Expo, there were no set prices, and the two tattoo artists were bouncing around pricing ideas before settling on a final price. Tom and Pixie agreed, saying that there is no set price for any given tattoo. Tom commented that a lot of it came down to how much you felt your time was worth. Pixie later clarified that much of the pricing is based on size, location, and how much time will be spent working on it. I had later asked if getting a tattoo with color was more expensive than just black and white. Tom said no, but threw in that color tattoos can be more bigger and more in-depth (even though black and white tattoos can be extremely intricate with the shading), and so if color indicates a bigger size, more time would mean the tattoo would be more expensive.

When I commented on how Susette’s tattoo was not large but was expensive because there was a lot of time involved, Tom nodded his head. “It’s a permanent thing on your body,” he said. He went on: It’s something you’re going to have for at least 30-40 years…that’s longer than a car.

I then asked Tom how he was able to choose his own tattoo artist. Though his black shirt almost touched his wrists, I could see he had a tattoo on each arm. He said mostly he sees tattoos on other people that he likes and asks where they went and who they had. Then he reviews the tattoo artist’s portfolio online, and if he likes it, he moves forward.

“So basically word of mouth,” I said, and he agreed. I told him how a colleague of mine with double sleeves did that to find her artist, as well, and while her first experience was a nightmare, her second outing was a much better experience.

Tom indicated that tattooing comes down to trust: how much you trust your tattoo artist can make a big difference in the tattoo. I asked if he noticed a difference in people’s trust based on how many tattoos they had gotten. Would a person getting their tattoo done for the first time struggle with trust? Pixie indicated that it really depends on the person. Some people are fine, and some people are very nervous. She said that in this job, you have to be a people person. You are dealing with all types of people, and you have to know how to work with them.

I agreed that their entire day is centered around people: some could be pleasant while others…not so much.

When I asked if anyone has passed out while getting a tattoo, Tom said that for awhile nobody had passed out, and that was one of the things he said when coming to this shop. He indicated that other tattoo artists told him to just wait, since he said it had never happened, he was going to jinx himself. And sure enough, he did. He said he had a man pass out on him, and I asked what happens when that happens. “Do you stop? Do you keep going?”

“No, you have to stop,” Tom said.

Pixie said that when someone passes out, they give them sugar and water to raise their blood sugar level. They try to talk to them and bring them back to feeling alright. She indicated that all of the workers at Body Graphics had to have their blood pathogen test done. I mentioned that at the Skindustry Expo when Susette and I were looking through some of the portfolios, a tattoo shop had their CPR and License certificates in their portfolio, and Pixie said that that was a good thing, since not everybody has to have that. They said that they find that sometimes, the “big, tough” guys are the ones to pass out while getting a tattoo. Not that it happens all the time to all “tough” guys, but Tom indicated how one man was getting four letterings done, and after the first lettering, he passed out. Tom had said that the man was even a military guy who once had his back cut up from razor wire.

Tom said that he came here from Oregon and that licensing from state to state is relatively simple. In fact, there are even temporary licenses for each state since so much of tattooing lends itself to travel during conventions, expos, etc. This raised a great point: at the Skindustry Expo, I had spoken with two tattoo artists from Cincinnati, and it hadn’t occurred to me, how are you tattooing in Pennsylvania when you are from Ohio? I told them how, with teaching, if you want to move from state to state, you have to check that the tests you have taken can transfer to another state. If not, you have to schedule the required test for that state.

When discussing after-care instructions, I remembered that in the past when I have given blood, I have been thoroughly instructed not to drink alcohol since there is less blood in the body. While getting a tattoo is clearly not the same as giving blood, I asked if people are allowed to drink after having a tattoo done. Tom indicated that it’s not generally a good idea because your immune system is trying to heal the tattoo, and alcohol can slow it down. One drink isn’t bad, but you don’t want to go partying that night. Pixie indicated that you also don’t want to show up to a tattoo session hungover, because the alcohol is still in your system, and that can affect how the tattoo turns out.

Occasionally, throughout the conversation, people who worked at Body Graphics walked through the front door, and it was clear that the atmosphere was pleasant. Tom and Pixie both waved and smiled at the men and women coming in, and they waved and smiled back. I continued to step aside incase any of the people entering were customers as I did not want to keep Tom or Pixie from business.

As the conversation was winding down, Pixie asked me if I wanted to see the rest of the shop. “That would be great,” I said.

She and Tom took me from where we had been, the room where the front desk, hardwood floors, and plants were, back to the next room, which serves as a type of waiting room. Flashes hung around the walls, and on a table in the center of the room lay a ton of flashes from which to choose. She then walked me back through nifty saloon-wooden doors to where each tattoo artist had his or her own room. A black-and-white checkered floor stretched out before me. Each tattoo artist had a great deal of space to work in, and the rooms smelled clean and sterile.

As we walked back to the front of the shop, I thanked Tom and Pixie again for taking the time to speak with me about their experiences. I shook both of their hands and exited the shop at 1:30, about an hour later. As I pushed open the tattoo parlor door, I stepped outside thinking, “I certainly learned a lot since the last time I was on the other side of these doors.”

Lookings, Part 2: Kim

Kim's tattoo. Artist: Vicky Hunt. Shop: Got Ink? Burlington City, NJ

Kim’s tattoo. Artist: Vicky Hunt. Shop: Got Ink? Burlington City, NJ

I entered Kim’s classroom around 9:45 on Tuesday, April 22nd after she previously agreed to discuss her tattoos and things related to it with me. Kim teaches 6th grade language arts and 7th grade math. Having worked with Kim for three years, I knew she had a tattoo of flowers on her right foot, but I wanted to know more. I wanted her to take me on a journey. During our common prep period, she did just that.

I sat at one of the empty student’s desks sitting sideways facing her. She was sitting in a chair facing me. I asked her to tell me about her tattoo, and she began by explaining that she had wanted a tattoo for a long time, one that would be discreet when necessary, but it took her a long time to decide what and where she got it.

Eventually, she decided to get a tattoo honoring her children: she has four flowers connected by vines. Two of the flowers are blue, honoring her two sons, one of the flowers is pink, honoring her daughter, and one flower is purple, honoring a miscarriage she had. I was surprised when she told me that the vines are actually initials for her children, woven and interconnected to look like vines. She indicated that, when deciding about what tattoo she would get honoring her children, she did not want something cliché like a footprint but that she wanted something “girly and feminine.”

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 1

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 1

When I asked Kim where she got her tattoo done, she said Got Ink? in Burlington City, New Jersey. Her tattoo artist was Vicky Hunt. Kim then indicated that the experience of getting the tattoo was absolutely “nerve-wracking.” She does not like needles, and while she went to the tattoo shop dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, she had to take off her sweatshirt because she was getting hot from the intensity of the experience. She indicated that she felt a burning sensation that eventually went numb, but when her tattoo artist paused to situate things she necessary for the tattoo, the sensation came back. Three months after getting the tattoo, she went back for a touch-up, and that pain was worse than getting the initial tattoo. She speculated perhaps since she went deeper under the skin it was more painful.

I asked Kim if she had a consultation before getting the tattoo, and she answered that she did. At the consultation, Kim showed her artist various flowers of which she was thinking and explained that she wanted the tattoo to be about her children and on what area she was interested. It took her artist a few days to draw the tattoo.

Kim is currently thinking about getting a tattoo when she hits five years of being free of breast cancer. She is thinking of having the tattoo on her wrist and having it say “believe,” with the “L” in the symbol of a pink breast cancer ribbon. Kim indicated that the tattoo must be easily concealed. When I asked her why, she indicated that she wants her tattoo to have a purpose and a meaning. “To me, that meaning is for myself.” I had commented on Kim’s current flower tattoo, saying that upon looking at it, it was not obvious that the flowers were for her kids and that the vines were actually initials. She expressed that she liked that about the tattoo, that the meaning was for her. She continued, I don’t want people “stereotyping me for the artwork on my body,” so keeping the tattoo not overtly obvious is important.

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 2

Fieldnotes while talking with Kim, page 2

She then admitted that she may change her mind about the tattoo she gets. She tossed around the idea of having a butterfly with the body of the butterfly as the pink cancer ribbon. She indicated that butterflies were something her grandmother loved, and so whenever she sees a butterfly, it holds sentimental value for her, so incorporating the butterfly with the cancer ribbon might be an option, as well.

“But who knows,” she said. I might change my mind about that.

Kim had also indicated that many people become addicted to getting tattoos, and that this did not really happen to her, saying, If not for breast cancer, I don’t know if I would want another tattoo.

After speaking with Kim, I realized that I had no idea what her tattoo actually meant. After working with her for three years, I knew that she had a tattoo of flowers on her foot, but I did not understand that they were symbolic of her children and that the vines were actually initials of her kids. This experience made me wonder how many other tattoos I have seen thinking I knew what I was looking at when, in reality, the tattoo might have a completely different significance.

Taking the Extreme to the Extreme: Rico “Zombie Boy” Genest

Model. Actor. Sideshow freak. However you chose to label Rico Genest, also known as “Zombie Boy,” it would be hard to ignore the white elephant—excuse me, white skeleton—standing in the middle of the room. Or the carnival.

After watching the above YouTube video, my initial thought was, “To each his own.” This is a man who has taken the concept of a tattoo and has blown it to an expansive level. It is hard to miss that many of his tattoos are of the bones and muscles inside his body: brain, skull, rib cage. All are an outward reflection of what is inside the body. He comments that he appreciates true beauty and that you should be who you are. He’s pretty much nailed that down: just by looking at him, I’m not sure if I’m looking at skin or an exo-skeleton.

Rico is the same as a librarian. He has taken something he loves and has made it his world. Isn’t that what librarians do? They love books. They make books their world. They surround themselves in books. Rico, a man who loves art, has surrounded himself in ink. The only difference is that books remain on the shelves and do not manifest themselves onto the body while tattoos cling to the skin and reveal something much more personal about the bearer than silent books left on the shelf reveal.

Rico (right) next to Lady Gaga (left) in Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" music video, courtesy Google Images

Rico (right) next to Lady Gaga (left) in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video, courtesy Google Images

He appeared in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” video in his regular zombie-tatted self alongside a newly fake mirror-imaged zombie-Gaga. She dances around him and struts her, well, stuff. I found it curious that his entire appearance in the video is of him simply standing and staring. Lady Gaga dances around him and makes different facial expressions while he, on the other hand, remains stoic and unchanging. In this way, Lady Gaga is treating Rico as the center. Much like the Earth revolves around the sun, she revolves around him, making it appear that Rico’s thoughts about staying true to yourself and doing what makes you happy are as important and life-sustaining as the sun. Without each, you lose yourself.

Rico "Zombie Boy," Courtesy Google Images

Rico “Zombie Boy,” Courtesy Google Images

In “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga celebrates the differences of human beings, making the case that it is okay to be different. When Rico is showcased, his purpose is clearly to acknowledge just how different people can be. But…Rico was not “born that way.” Getting the tattoos was something that he chose to do, a personal and external alteration of the body. Instead, then, I argue that Lady Gaga celebrates the differences of decisions that human beings can make. While Rico was not born with a tattoo of a brain, rib cage, or skull, his choice to take on those tattoos is what shapes who he is as a person, what comes naturally to him.

Upon making the mistake of scrolling down the page to read the YouTube comments, I found that there was a clear division in how Rico was accepted. Several women acknowledged that he was attractive and sexy. Several males countered that he was a freak and was not to be taken seriously. Of course, YouTube comments are usually not meant for the weak of heart: f-bombs and other offensive comments appeared, revealing just how polarized people are when thinking about Rico. One person insulted Rico’s “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comment, attesting that Rico is trying to be deep but is using a cliché. He also threw in a choice word, but we’ll leave that out.

After looking at the comments, and rolling my eyes at the vast typos (nothing better than trying to take someone seriously when they have about as many typos as the ideas as they are insulting), one thing was clear: This man straddles the idea of what you can do to your body. As stated, librarians surround themselves with books. Lawyers surround themselves with clients. Athletes surround themselves in fitness. And Rico? He surrounds himself with what makes him happy…tattoos.

 

The man of the hour, courtesy Google Images

The man of the hour, courtesy Google Images

 

Post Online Interview: E-mail

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

My expectations going into this interview were to find out more about tattoos and about the way people with tattoos get treated. The interview with Carol was similar to my expectations in that she answered each question that I had asked with a thorough response. When comparing online interviewing with in-person interviewing, I noticed that e-mail interviewing lends itself to getting clear-cut answers. Since the questions are directly in front of the person, it is convenient for them to shape their answer around the inquiries. Without me contributing anything to the discussion, which is what I did in the in-person interviews as suggested in Postmodern Interviewing, Carol was able to keep the focus entirely on her background with tattoos without pausing or being influenced in any way by my contributions to the conversation. What was different from what I expected about the interview was that Carol told me something very personal when discussing the tattoos that she had. I felt honored that she shared that information with me. I am not sure if I would be comfortable telling a stranger something about my personal life, and I appreciated the fact that she did that with me.

From the interview (which included a follow-up e-mail), I learned that Carol is a pediatric nurse who does not have tattoos in visible areas. While she wants more tattoos (she currently has two), she would not get them in visible areas. When she indicated she had to refrain from getting the tattoos in visible areas, I asked a follow-up question about whether or not it was written in their policy for tattoos to remain hidden. She indicated that her work does prohibit visible tattoos and that failure to recognize this policy could result in a loss of her job.

While I do not have any more follow-up questions for Carol, I have spoken with several proponents of tattoos in the workplace (Carol being one of them.) I would like to speak with someone who disagrees with tattoos in the workplace and have a discussion about why. Therefore, I hope that next I will speak with an employer or business owner and dig deep about their policies and the reasoning behind them.

What was successful about the interview was the depth of information with which Carol provided me. She answered my questions succinctly and generously tuned me into the meaning behind her tattoos and ideas for future tattoos. In regards to strategies discussed in Postmodern Interviewing, “From the Individual Interview to the Interview Society” discusses a type of asymmetrical encounter in which “participants have different functions: One side asks questions and records information, and the other side provides answers to the questions asked” (37). In this case, an e-mail interview can certainly be considered “asymmetrical” since both sides, or “participants” are not engaging on a multi-level conversation. Instead, there is a set list of questions to which the respondent offers information. I do feel that this worked out well, as Carol enlightened me with many things about her life as a nurse with tattoos and the significance of each tattoo.

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

Skindustry Expo Outing: The Art of Bro-ing, Dude-ing, and Man-ing

Skindustry Expo

Skindustry  Expo, http://www.skindustryexpo.com/

Transcriptions

On Sunday, March 23, 2014, Susette (a classmate) and I traveled up to Allentown, PA to attend the Skindustry Expo. The day started off with a kink when we arrived at the Holiday Inn and noticed how barren the lobby was. When we asked the front desk clerk where the tattoo expo was, she indicated that we were at “the wrong hotel” and that where we needed to be was “only twenty minutes away.”

Once we navigated our way out of downtown Allentown, which Susette mentioned looked like “one of those places in movies where you don’t want to get lost,” and found our way onto a main road, we relaxed for the “only” twenty minute drive.

When we pulled into the correct Holiday Inn, our reservations about finding the right place were alleviated: unlike the desolate, leaky parking garage in which we had previously parked (which would, in fact, make a great scene for a horror movie), this parking lot was packed with cars and civilization.

The weather was chilly and the wind blew around us as we walked up to the Holiday Inn Conference Center. The sun was hidden behind the clouds, and a grayish color seemed to splash across our surroundings. As we got closer to the automatic sliding door entrance of the hotel, I noticed that there were several people clumped together smoking.

When we walked inside, two things were clear: my lungs, and the fact that we were in the right place. Besides the countless people milling around holding drinks and bearing tattoos, a big sign read “Skindustry Expo.” To the left was a bar with nice, modern chairs surrounding it. To the right behind double glass doors was a bar/restaurant. In order to get inside the expo, we needed to walk straight ahead and to the left.

Susette and I both paid a $15 entrance fee (after Susette stopped at the inside ATM), and a tall man with lots of tattoos put a neon yellow wristband around each of our wrists. We then walked into the main room.

Immediately, my ears were enveloped in the buzz, buzz, buzz of tattoo machines. The plunge inside was overwhelming. Everywhere I looked, there were people getting tattooed: arms, legs, torsos, back. The room itself was small, and the effect was cramping. I was transfixed.

Each tattoo shop had its own booth, and most shops had signs displaying their name hanging on the cloth dividers between each booth. Susette and I decided that we would start to the right.

Mike & Co. sign as displayed at the expo

Mike & Co. sign as displayed at the expo, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mikes-Tattoo/125998317447586

At the first booth we went to (Mike and Co), there were two artists behind the booth: one white male who looked to be in his fifties, and one Hispanic male who looked to be around twenty. The older male had dark brown and gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, and the younger male had thick, black curly hair. We first spoke with the older tattoo artist who, in addition to being in the middle of giving a man in his fifties a shoulder tattoo, displayed black shirts that read “Tattooed and Employed.” The man, who we would later learn was Mike, asked us where we were from. Once we told him the Philly area, Susette asked him if he had any of the “Tattooed and Employed” t-shirts in a smaller size. (All that was there were larges and extra-larges.) He told her that whatever was out was what he had and suggested that she could wear it as a nightgown and laughed.

We continued walking around the room checking out the various tattoo booths set up. There was one man getting a tattoo who was laying on his stomach while a tattoo artist was tattooing the back of his right leg. I noticed that his left leg was completely covered in tattoos. He was wearing dark shorts that came down just past his knee, and there was no skin exposed that was not covered in ink.

Susette and I continued walking around, and we checked out another booth’s display of past tattoos and sketches. We continued this process for several booths. One of the tattoo booths refereed us to a booth across from them, which was a tattoo removal company, suggesting that we “just talk to them because they are awesome.”

Susette struck up a conversation with one of the men behind the booth who explained that he was a doctor. He was of solid build, mid-thirties, and white. There was a video being displayed of the laser removal process and he went over how it works, how many sessions it would take, how much money it costs per session, etc. Susette showed him a tattoo that she was interested in having faded (not entirely removed), and he explained specifics of it to her. We both took his card and continued walking.

Mr. Blue Sky Tattoos - hand-made tattoo machines on display during the expo

Mr. Blue Sky Tattoos – hand-made tattoo machines on display during the expo

The expo was set up in such a way that there were two main aisles and thus three strips of tattoo booths. After we hit the entire first aisle closest to the back of the room, we ventured onto the middle aisle. We came across a booth (Mr. Blue Sky Tattoo) where they had tattoo machines on display that they had hand crafted and painted. It was an impressive assortment. I asked the man if he was okay with me taking the picture, and he encouraged me to do so. We struck up conversation for a little, mostly asking where we all were from, and continued walking after paying him and the machines another compliment.

Susette, at this point, expressed an interest in going back to the Mike and Co stand (where the Tattooed and Employed shirts were) to get a quote for how much a tattoo she was interested in getting would be. On the car ride up, she told me she was thinking of making an appointment for getting a tattoo done this coming Saturday, but, she expressed, she might get it done here if it was a good price.

When we got back to the booth, the younger Hispanic male asked her to write out the exact tattoo that she wanted. He spoke with an accent that was hard to place. She wrote it down, and he told us to give him about ten minutes while he sketched something out. We killed time by walking around and noticed that one of the booths, in addition to having their past work on display, also displayed their 2013 License and a CPR certificate. I looked to Susette on this, and she said that she had never seen booths display those things before.

We then went to another booth and while we were looking at their pictures, one of the artists broke in. He pointed to a tattoo and asked us if we got the joke: it was a picture of a rooster that was being hanged and was around the shin area. The man continued, “It’s a tattoo of a cock that hangs below the knee,” and began laughing. The person who was getting tattooed, evidently, was the wearer of that particular tattoo, and he laughed, too, and pointed to it on his leg. He was currently in the middle of getting another tattoo. We smiled and walked away not long after that.

We went back to Mike and Co. where the design was ready. The young male had gotten one of the words wrong. Instead of reading, “Great writers are the saints of the godless,” he had sketched, “Great writers are the saints for the greatless.” Susette told him the word was wrong, and he asked, “Oh, what should it be?” He got a new piece of paper and redid the sketch.

While he redid the sketch, we both noticed a woman with double sleeves. She was very attractive: she had on bright red lipstick, heavy eyeliner, and short brown hair that curled under. She wore bright red pants and a black top with white pinstripes coming down. Susette commented that she liked how she wore tattoos but was also still really feminine. I agreed. She was with, we later determined, the man with his leg covered in tattoos.

When the sketch was ready, Susette analyzed it and said that she loved it. She asked if he could add a quill to the sketch, and, when he did not know what she meant (it was hard to hear), she pulled up a picture of it on her phone. He added it to the design and made it look like the quill was writing the sketch. He asked if she wanted the writing in black and red, and Susette said, “I wanted everything black and white.”

While they spoke about the tattoo, I looked around and noticed all of the different hair colors present: there were people with green hair, people with blue hair, men with beards that went down past their chest, gauges, piercings under eyes, piercings on the back of necks, etc. I looked back at the tattoo artist and Susette.

The young tattoo artist, let’s call him A, showed a sketch of what he had done and said, “Mike, what do you think?” Mike said, “What do you think?” A said, “I don’t know that’s why I’m asking you.” “Yeah, I know,” Mike said, “I would say no less than two and a quarter.”

Paperwork Susette signed before the tattoo process began

Paperwork Susette signed before the tattoo process began

Finally, they settled on $200.

While A finished the stenciling, Susette pointed out to me that all of the needles were wrapped and that everything was in plastic bags for sanitary purposes. We looked around the booth and noticed that they had one chair. Susette said that she would have to lie down since she was getting the tattoo on her hip, and we wondered how they were going to work it out. Eventually, A went and got three extra chairs from the hotel and set them up in a row. He put down purple sanitary paper and made a makeshift table.

A sanitized Susette’s hip and placed the purple sheet underneath her jeans to respect her privacy. He set out four ink dips: three were black ink, and one was white ink. A unwrapped everything he needed from its plastic covering. He told Susette as she was laying down that she would need to put her arm over her head.

A white male who seemed to be in his late thirties came over to the booth with his son. His son looked to be about four or five years old and had a shaved head and was sucking on a lollipop. The man admired the “Tattooed and Employed” shirts and asked how much they were. When he paid Mike the $20, the man looked at the shirt and said, “Love it.” They walked away.

 

A working on Susette

A working on Susette

Susette and I had previously agreed that we were dying of thirst. It was taking A a little longer than we thought to prep everything, and when he left to grab some paper towels, I went and got two waters at the bar. When I came back, A was in the process of starting the tattoo.

I did my best to crane my neck and see what was going on without being a distraction for A. By now, the constant buzzing of the tattoo machine had become a familiar sound in the background. Susette had her arm over her head, and she was turned away from A so that he could have the best angle possible.

He continued working diligently: he would complete strokes and rub the excess ink away with a paper towel that was getting continuously blacker. At one point, Mike looked over to check on the tattoo and made a face that seemed to say, “Nice work.” I got the vibe that A was more of an “apprentice” due to how Mike was giving him feedback and, sometimes, instructions. For example, at one point, Mike said, “Dude, if you can’t see her, you have to turn her.” A nodded his head. Mike then said to the tattoo artist at the next booth (who was inches away from Susette), “Bro, turn your light on for him, if you don’t mind, since you don’t have anyone right now.” The man nodded his head, turned his light on, and repositioned it so that the light fell over Susette, giving A a better view.

Susette's tattoo in the works

Susette’s tattoo in the works

As A continued to work, I wondered how Susette was dealing with the pain. She seemed to be doing alright, alternating between tapping her foot and pursing her lips. The tattoo was progressing nicely. A was clearly in the zone and was doing an outstanding job. He did the black ink first and then went back and added white shading in.

When he went to the quill and started shading it in, I knew that A was working on a painful area. Mike had said, Just wait til he gets to the quill area on her stomach. Ouch. A continued to work, rubbing on some type of ointment over the tattoo as he worked.

While A continued working, the next booth over had a customer who was getting a flower design on her right foot. She was in her early thirties, white, and had short red hair. She was with someone who may have been her husband and her son. Her son was about four years old. She hopped up on their bed and the tattoo artist who had turned on the light for A began stenciling in the rose. He kept the light where it was: it was covering both Susette and his own client.

When the man had finished the rose tattoo, which did not take long at all considering Susette was at least two hours in, (hers took perhaps twenty minutes), her son hopped up on the table after the tattoo artist had sterilized it. The woman who had gotten the rose tattoo asked her son if he was ready for his own tattoo. He shook his head yes. The tattoo artist sketched out a tattoo of a shin dagger, and his parents laughed as they told him to pull up his pant leg. He did, and the tattoo artist put the stenciling on his shin, rubbed it with a damp paper towel, and took it off. Someone walked by and said, “Welcome to the dagger club!”

His parents asked him how he liked his “tattoo,” and the boy said he liked it. His mom told him that he could show it off to all of his friends at school. He hopped down, and they left.

At this point, A had been working for about two hours at the tattoo. I stood the entire time trying to get a good view of the work. Occasionally, Mike, who was still working on the man with the shoulder tattoo, had to come out of the booth, and I had to maneuver myself so he could walk by, and then maneuver myself again so that he could get back in.

The finished product! "Great writers are the saints for the godless." Tattoo by A from Mike & Co.

The finished product! “Great writers are the saints for the godless.” Tattoo by A from Mike & Co. Picture thanks to Susette.

Finally, the tattoo was complete. A gave Susette a mirror and showed her the work. The tattoo did look great, and Susette said, “It looks amazing.” He took a few pictures of the tattoo and then covered it with a paper towel.

Susette stood up, and I asked her how she felt. She said horrible, and I told her that she did a great job. She paid Mike, and we walked away. I asked Susette if she wanted any food before we left the expo. We were both okay, so after Susette used the bathroom, we walked out to the car. It was around five-thirty, and the expo was closing at six.

Susette indicated that that was the most painful tattoo she had ever gotten, but she was very happy with the final product. As we drove away, we agreed that it had been an exhausting day. I said that even I was exhausted and I wasn’t the one who got a tattoo! Yawning, I realized that it had been a great day.

 

Jottings, page 1

Jottings, page 1

Jottings, pages 2-3

Jottings, pages 2-3

Jottings, pages 4-5

Jottings, pages 4-5

Jottings, page 6

Jottings, page 6

 

Scene

As Susette and I were making the rounds, we walked over to one of the booths and began thumbing through their portfolio. One of the artists came over and asked how we were doing. After we said we were just looking, he told us that the guys across from them are “pretty awesome” and that we should go over and talk to them just because of how awesome they are.

We looked and saw that they were a tattoo removal booth, and since Susette was interested in getting one of her tattoos faded so that a new tattoo could go over it, we walked over.

go! tatoo removal logo

go! tatoo removal logo

The name of the company was “go! tattoo removal.” Their slogan was, “Kids are forever. Tattoos don’t have to be.” There were two workers behind the booth, and there was a television showing the laser removal process. There was a thick crowd of people when we first got there, and we waited off to the side. When the crowd thinned, we moved in, and a man of solid build came over to us. He was in his mid-thirties, had short, brown hair, no tattoos, and was attractive.

He indicated that he was a doctor and that this was his laser (he pointed to the screen). Susette showed him her tattoo that she was interested in having faded. He informed us that black and red ink fade out the fastest, and after analyzing her tattoo, he told her that it would take about 2-5 sessions to fade. He said each session could take anywhere from 35 seconds to one minute.

Susette showed him a small tattoo on her finger that she was interested in getting removed, and he said that he could do that, too, at “no extra charge.”

The man was very informative and told her that he thought her tattoo would fade very nicely, but he said, “I believe in planning for the worst and hoping for the best.” While he thought maybe two sessions was all she might need, he said, “I would never want you to put that in your expectations.” He continued to explain that the fact that she was young and thin was working to her advantage to having the tattoo removed faster. He also said the fact that the tattoo was mostly black was working in her favor, too, since black fades the fastest.

He continued going over how the laser works, saying “Our laser doesn’t damage skin” since heat can aggravate the skin.

Susette was happy that the price was so good. She informed the man that her doctor had told her that it could cost about $500 a session to get her tattoo removed. The man professionally disagreed saying that her doctor needs to do his research. He was charging $125 a session (if she were to get it done today), but a typical session cost $150. He encouraged her to get a $50-off coupon for when she decides to come up and get it done.

We thanked the man and walked away, agreeing that he was very knowledgeable and had a great price.

Reflection 

During the outing, I learned what it was like to be, what felt like, the only person without a tattoo in a room. As the sounds of the tattoo machines buzzed away, I tried to gain familiarity with my surroundings. As Susette and I walked around, I absorbed the wide variety of people: green hair, blue hair, gauges, men with beards down to their stomachs, etc. I’ve seen it all before, but not housed together in one room. It was quite overwhelming at first.

I think I mentally clung to Susette. She was my link to the people in the room. If anyone asked, she was my friend with the tattoos. See? I belong here.

I learned a few things about tattoos from the outing. For starters, from speaking with a doctor at a tattoo removal booth, I learned that the ink color that will fade the fastest and is, therefore, the easiest color to remove during tattoo removal is black. I would have thought a lighter color would be easier. I also learned that tattoo machines can be hand made. As crazy as it sounds, I assumed that factories turned out tattoo machines, picturing them sliding out on a conveyer belt. One of the tattoo artists had several of his own hand-made tattoo machines out on display, and they were impressive. He was proud of them, and he should have been. I was surprised to see that there were children attending the event with their parents. A venue like this, where profanity and crude language swirled through the air, was not a place where I expected young children to be, taking it all in. Yet, they were there, and I did not judge their parents, but I made a mental note that this would not be an event where I would take my children.

It wasn’t until I returned from the expo that I realized how many times I heard “bro,” “dude,” and “man” used over the course of the day, mostly when men were speaking to other men. It was to the point that I did not write it down in my jottings, but from re-visualizing the event, these terms came to the forefront of my mind.

Questions that I still have: I am still trying to discover the motivation behind putting something on your body that is so permanent. Is it the meaning behind the tattoo that drives people or is it the look and what it says about you that drives people? I hope to find out more about this during my research.

Next, I will be visiting a local tattoo parlor in South Jersey. I hope that speaking with a tattoo artist one-on-one (even though I did this at the event, there was a lot going on, and it was hard to have a real conversation) will help illuminate some of my questions.

The outing was successful in that it was full immersion: it does not get any more interactive with large crowds of people getting tattooed out in the open for everyone to see. At first, I was scared to look at the people getting tattooed simply out of respect. I wanted to give them privacy. It became quite clear, though, that they did not care at all about this. You don’t get tattooed at an expo for privacy, I quickly learned. It was interesting to see the different places people were getting tattooed—on the foot, arm, hip, back, shoulder, calf, etc. It was great to see all of these people getting tattooed in different places and the different positions that they had to have their body in to get the tattoo completed.

If I went to an expo again, I would make it a point of talking more with people. While we struck up conversation with different tattoo artists, I would like to get the chance to talk more with them. (Of course, that was hindered because they were busy either tattooing, working on a sketch, or speaking with customers.) It would have been great to speak to someone getting a tattoo and getting down to the motivation behind it. My shyness crept over me, and I did not want to do anything but observe. Now that I’ve warmed up to the overall atmosphere of tattoos, I think I would be more willing to step outside of my comfort zone and strike up a conversation.

The portions of the reading that helped guide my field notes were from Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. The book indicates not to write down opinions of people (such as the scene where the man was “crazy”), but, rather, writing down objective details, like the color of his shirt, his beard, etc. Throughout the entire experience, I made sure I wrote down facts and not opinions. This helped my fieldnotes because when I reviewed them, I was able to clearly picture the person and was not influenced by my feelings at the time when I wrote them. Had I had formed an opinion about someone early into the outing without really knowing anything about the culture, I would be portraying an inaccurate picture. Had I seen that same person at the end of the outing, I may not have written down such an opinion with a new awareness in mind. So, not wanting to jump to conclusions, I wrote down only the facts, and when I looked at my notes later, I had a clear image without opinions clouding my vision.

Online Preparation Post

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

For my online interview, I will be sending Carol a list of questions via e-mail by Wednesday, March 26. I am interviewing Carol because she has tattoos and is not an educator. Since my two in-person interviews are both of people in the education field (a teacher and an administrator), interviewing someone in a different career will provide a new perspective on the issue.

Carol has tattoos of her own, and her son is a tattoo artist. I posted the following Facebook status: “Tattoo lovers! If anyone knows someone with tattoos who would be willing to answer a few questions for my research on tattoos for grad school, please let me know  Thanks!” A colleague of mine saw the status and referred me to a friend of hers, Carol, and Carol’s son, a tattoo artist. My colleague provided me with Carol’s e-mail address, and I e-mailed Carol explaining the circumstance. Carol was all too happy to help and recommended I interview her since her son is extremely busy.

I chose to use e-mail because it works well with both of our busy schedules. After I posted my Facebook status, I had four people (who I knew) respond that they would be interested. Even though I knew them already and could not use them for the online interview, I thanked them and sent them questions via Facebook messaging. I included my e-mail address and gave them the option to send me the answers either through Facebook messenger or through e-mail. Three of them e-mailed me back (I have yet to hear from one person), and I was impressed with how freely they spoke to me about their tattoos. I, therefore, felt very confident in e-mail as the medium for divulging information. As such, in an e-mail, Carol will be able to tell me as much as she wants, and e-mail gives her time to construct her answers as well as the freedom to have some control over her responses.

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

When thinking of the interview in terms of Postmodern Interviewing, the chapter “From the Individual Interview to the Interview Society” points out an interesting concept: the interviewer needs to have a “caring and concerned attitude, expressed within a well-planned and encouraging format.” Much of the research I have done thus far has not necessarily had a “format.” I knew a focus, but there was not an outline. E-mail will lend itself to crafted questions that clearly display a well-planned format. There will still be room for “going where the wind takes me,” in regard to follow up questions.

The following are the questions that I will be sending to Carol. (Depending on her responses, I will also send follow up questions via e-mail.)

  •          Tell me about your tattoos (how many, location, what they are, the meaning behind them, etc.)
  •          Tell me about your experience while getting tattooed (painful, were the tattoo artists friendly, etc.)
  •          At what shops have you gotten your tattoos? How did you find your artist?
  •          What is your career? Has having tattoos affected your professional career? How so?
  •          How do people typically react when they see your tattoo(s)?
  •          Do you ever feel the need to hide your tattoo(s), and if so, in what type of circumstance?
  •          Please tell me anything else you would like that were not included in the questions.

I am asking these questions to gain insight into many different things. First, the question I have asked throughout all of the interviews (online, in person, or during conversations during outings) is how tattoos have affected their professional careers. Using this as an anchor question helps me to see a spatial relationship of tattoos in the workforce. As tattoos in education is a focus for my feature, it will be beneficial to get a plethora of answers on the issue. All of these questions will provide an insight into a topic where there is still much to learn.

Tattoos: Areas to be covered

…Information wise, that is. The following is a list of events and interviews that will increase my immersion in the tattoo field:

  • Interview teacher with a tattoo (in-person): completed on Friday, 3/21
  • Interview tattoo artist via e-mail: questions sent Saturday, 3/22
  • Attend Skindustry Expo in Allentown, PA: attended Sunday, 3/23
  • Interview administrator with a tattoo in person: Wednesday, 3/26
  • Interview online found tattoo-bearer: questions to be sent by Monday, 3/24
  • Attend a local tattoo shop (not including the name until I get their permission to use it): tentative date, Wednesday, 4/16
  • Other events to be added

Stay posted!

Post Interview Reflection: In-Person

As a teacher, I know that I can plan the best lesson possible. I can plan a lesson with all the bells and whistles. I can plan a lesson with frills and thrills and anything in-between. And the lesson can fall flat on its face.

I expected the interview to flow freely. I thought that once we started the conversation, ideas would come spewing out and thoughts would zoom around the room. Looking back, I had grandeurs plans about the amount of information I would acquire.

It was not that the interview was bad, or even disappointing. When I walked in the room, my colleague was in the middle of grading homework. This grading continued throughout the entire interview, so right away I felt that I was intruding on her time. Right off the bat, I felt somewhat uncomfortable. Even though we have had thousands of conversations in the past while she was grading homework, this time it felt different. I expected us to sit down together and have a conversation, a sharing of thoughts and ideas.

I respected that fact that we both have numerous assignments to grade, so I did not take it personally. After all, contrary to what the youth of America thinks, teachers do not, in fact, live in their classrooms and actually do have lives of their own. So, when I saw her grading, I did not take it in the least bit personal. I did not want to ask her to stop grading and come and sit with me because, after all, she was doing me a favor by allowing me to interview her. I attributed her grading during the interview to how busy teachers’ lives are and how much we need every ounce of free time to push through the heavy workload that, contrary to what several adults of America think, is not that much.

Despite the grading, I learned several things from the interview. First, I learned the significance of Krista’s double sleeves: one arm represents a nature inspired theme, and the other arm represents a contemporary Asian theme. When Krista did not further articulate this description, I did not press her, thinking that perhaps it would come up later in the interview. Thinking back to Postmodern Interviewing, I thought that once she felt more comfortable talking about her tattoos, she might share that information with me later on.

During the interview, I found that it was not turning out to be a back and forth conversation like I had planned. Rather, I opened with a question (“Tell me about your tattoos”) and got a very short answer and a long pause. A few students walked noisily by in the hallway, and this reminded me of an incident that had happened earlier in the day that I had wanted to tell her about. As I was approaching this interview with the reflexive dyadic interview in mind, I went ahead and shared my personal feelings (even though it was not on the topic of tattoos, it was still sharing nonetheless). After we exchanged thoughts on the issue, I went back to the topic of tattoos. (In order to maintain professionalism, I am not writing about the conversation we had.)

From knowing Krista as a colleague, I knew that when she first stated teaching, she kept her tattoos covered, the complete opposite of what she does now. I, therefore, asked her what prompted her to keep them covered then but not now? She responded, It was a personal thing. I liked to keep my personal and professional life separate, and keeping them covered was a way to do it. She continued to inform me that, at the time of keeping them covered, she did not yet have a full sleeve, and therefore the tattoos were more “manageable” to conceal since her sleeve was not as progressed as it is now. As her sleeve grew, she found it more difficult to hide. (I noted that today she was wearing a zip-up sweatshirt as opposed to her usual short-sleeve shirts. I was still able to see the bottom part of both sleeves by her wrist.)

I then asked her how parents tend to react to her double sleeves. She indicated that several parents give her compliments on them. She expressed that she has never received a “derogatory” comment about her tattoos and that the parents who are clearly alarmed by them tend to sit and stare but never say anything about them.

I then asked her how students react to them, and she said that typically one of two things happen: either the students are scared stiff about them and do not say anything, or her tattoos make her more accessible and relatable to students, as several of their parents have tattoos, as well. Krista indicated that administrators in the district have never given her a hard time about tattoos. We agreed that there was nothing in our contract under the dress code policy about hiding tattoos, and therefore it would be inappropriate to raise the issue.

At this time, the conversation hit a standstill, and I found myself, again, expressing teaching stories of the day to both break the silence and get the conversation going again.

We spoke briefly about how Disney workers are not allowed to cover their tattoos with a band-aid but must, instead, cover them with make-up. This reminded me of an article I had skimmed through the night before about a new military tattoo rule, and I asked her how she felt about it. She indicated that tattoos are “such a part of our culture” these days that she was surprised that the mindset (of both tattoos in the military and in the workforce) has not become more flexible with it. This prompted me to ask her what she would do if she ever had to interview for a job now that she has double sleeves. She responded that she would keep them covered and wait until she had the opportunity to ask questions and would inquire about what the company’s policy was about tattoos.

We chatted briefly about the age restriction of tattoos. While the legal age to go alone is 18, I told her that I had a student two years ago (he was around fourteen) with tattoos on his wrists, and she indicated that some students will go with their parents, who approve the tattoo.

I then asked her about her husband.  I knew that he had tattoos, but I was not sure how many or of what kind. She informed me that he has one full sleeve and a half sleeve (in the making). I then asked her how she got started with tattoos since she did not have any when they met. She took me though the order of her tattoo artists (three total, including one scary first tattoo artist) and how she found them. I learned that most people find tattoo artist through a friend recommendation or from asking a person they see with a tattoo that they admire.

Despite the fact that each question got a quick response, I am left with one question: Krista had indicated on an earlier day from a conversation that she enjoyed the process of getting a tattoo, pain and all. I want to know more about this idea of pain/pleasure during a tattoo. I am also left with questions for teachers who work in districts where tattoo revealing is forbidden. How do they feel about that? What preparations must they take in order to adhere to the regulations? For a teacher without a tattoo, would he or she consider getting a tattoo knowing that he/she would have to keep it covered for the majority of the day? Speaking with a parent of a student who had a teacher with tattoos would also help gain a different perspective on the issue.

Next, I am hoping to interview a teacher in a different district to get a fresh perspective on what they have to go through. Even if they are allowed to show their tattoos, they are still dealing with a different student/parent population, and it will be interesting to learn about how their tattoos are perceived.

In regard to what I might have done differently, the timing of the interview falls at the top of my list. Perhaps taking a period from the day was not the way to go. Instead, it may have been better if one day we had stayed after school. As we only have one common prep period (third period), there were no other periods during the day to do this. Plus, I did not want to take extra time away from her day, so I thought third period would be a good alternative. I think, perhaps, a period after the grading was done would have changed things. Or, perhaps, a day other than Friday, when most homework assignments are turned in, may have been a better choice. I think, too, that Krista’s personality is not one that jumps out with information. Though she has double sleeves, she can be shy and I think this contributed to the lack of flow, as well. While I tried to keep things flowing with my personal stories, perhaps I could have done things differently. Overall, I learned a lot about her thoughts on tattoos and am incredibly grateful for the time that she dedicated to me to conduct this interview.

 

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 https://www.google.com/search?q=dermis&biw=1280&bih=666&tbm=isch&imgil=9hSxWokZktRdgM%253A%253Bhttps%253A%252F%252Fencrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com%252Fimages%253Fq%253Dtbn%253AANd9GcS4k8OnUVC31rwKbeeFHz_sFvdwnxlvwlTozY-HEwX22bOi2QyrzA%253B435%253B504%253Biev0U8gBeQvNsM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.medterms.com%25252Fscript%25252Fmain%25252Fart.asp%25253Farticlekey%2525253D2958&source=iu&usg=__xIT2nmsXmpeFOBvZUlfpTmd0iMg%3D&sa=X&ei=av4gU7ywG-LQ0gGqqIG4Cw&ved=0CDwQ9QEwAw#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=9hSxWokZktRdgM%253A%3Biev0U8gBeQvNsM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fimages.medicinenet.com%252Fimages%252Fillustrations%252Fskin.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.medterms.com%252Fscript%252Fmain%252Fart.asp%253Farticlekey%253D2958%3B435%3B504

Diagram of Epidermis/Dermis, courtesy Google Images https://www.google.com/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 www.google.com/images

Macy’s Star, courtesy Google Images http://www.google.com/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.