Last week, I was working from one of many of my “coffices” here in Denver. I struck up a conversation with a random woman at the next table who had commented on a visible portion of my latest foray into more extensive inking (to the right). She mentioned something to the effect of how she loved tattoos but would never have the guts to get one. “Do you ever wonder what people think when they see them? I mean, yours are pretty visible” she said. I paused for a moment, squishing her words around in my mind like grapes from the vine. Here was my reply:
Everyone has stories that make up who they are. I just choose to wear some of mine in places where everyone can see. It’s not that I put them there so others could judge – it’s because that’s where my heart told me they belong.
And so I sit down today to write a post that’s been nagging at me for about a week, as we’re all “inked” in some way or another. Some of us just have stories that are more visible than others.
What Are You Wearing?
There’s a reason you run your business the way you do. You can replace the word business with life, love, relationships, friendships, morning ablutions, pet shelter – any myriad of words can be dropped in its place. Whatever your noun of choice, there’s a reason behind how you go about it. We all have a story, history, memories, love, experiences, successes, hurt, complete failures and things that run the gamut in between. Those things are what we wear. The things we carry from the moment we wake up in the morning until we fall asleep at night. They stay with us through our dreams and nightmares and when we wake, we’re reminded throughout the day that they’re the things who make us who we are.
Isn’t that the beauty of the human machine? We all share so many similarities yet we’re startlingly (and occasionally annoyingly) different. That’s emotional ink. We can’t undo what’s been done to us. What we can do, however, is choose how we’ll tell (and complete) the story.
Owning Your Ink
I look back on the 17 years of my life that I spent doing what I was supposed to be doing. This ranged from getting married to working for corporation after corporation, buying a house and, well, working through the seemingly interminable pile of bullshit I’d accumulated over the years. I kept doing shit to avoid digging into the real shit that made me who I am. Maybe there’s some uncomfortably familiar truth in my process that some of you recognize. Regardless, that’s my ink. I still carry all of that with me today, but I’m comfortable wearing it. As I’ve grown older, I even come to like the way it looks on me. Regardless of the fact that I have 6 tattoos (and soon to be a half sleeve), I think that an imperative part of the process of finding yourself comes through owning your ink – physical, emotional and all the iterations in between.
Maybe you refer to your ink as baggage. Semantics. Whatever you call it, just think of the incredible power it gives you. You own a human experience unlike any other. And when we start viewing our ink as a collection of human experiences that give us power (instead of making us weak, unexceptional and worth less than we truly are), we place ourselves in a position to do some truly amazing things.
The Inherent Power of Ink
Who we are makes it possible for us to do everything we do. The flip side to that is acknowledging that everyone we come across in our lives has their own ink. Granted, some personalities won’t always mix (case in point, you won’t see me mingling with this inky nightmare), but it doesn’t lessen the need to respect others on some level for what they bring to the table. And yeah, some people might not bring anything to your table, but they bring something to someone’s. And the cool part of that? The same goes for you. Screw the people who don’t like your ink – that’s their ink talking. Learn to wear yours, as it’s the reason you can stand in front of the people you love…and have them love you back.
And there’s something especially bomb-diggity about our ink: while it’s with us for life in some form or another, it can morph into something different if we let it.
The Mutability of Ink
The week I turned 18, I took a few friends with me and headed to the tattoo parlor in Houston, Texas to get my first tattoo. Winnie the Pooh, a lifelong pal of mine, found his way onto my left shoulder blade. If you have a closer look under my new koi fish’s tail, you’ll see the faintest remnants of Pooh Bear. He’s morphed, become something new. We used what he gave me all those years, bold lines and his big, silly belly, and created something that’s becoming.
This isn’t a principle that just applies to ink the physical sense – we can do this with every bit of our ink. Morph it into something that carries us forward. Why do we let our ink hold us back? We try to hide things that we feel people won’t accept and love, whether in business or our personal lives. I say to hell with it. Take the ink that no longer suits you and create the next stage of your life. Then again, that’s only something that can happen if you’re willing to let it. Some people dig their ink and that’s fine. I’m pretty good with mine. Add to it, make it into something new, embrace it. It’s yours, and that means you can do with it whatever the hell you please.
Who Cares if it Shows?
Your ink – in whatever form it takes in your life – is yours. Who cares if it shows? The biggest hindrance we have in life is making ourselves subject to the opinions of other. Like assholes, everyone has one. Why not make yourself subject to you? I’m a 38-year-old woman who loves live action comic book flicks, uses the f-bomb like it’s a comma, product of a single-parent household with two dogs, two cats, and 4.35 bikes who lost the man she loved on October 31 of last year. I love my friends, family and business and after watching the movie “Easy A” this morning while on the bike trainer, think it’s possible that I love Penn Badgley as well. (Yes, I know he’s 25. Shut up. A girl can drool at impossibility.) I’ve made a go at everlasting love a few times, but it hasn’t worked out. And that’s okay – because it got me to the life I love living today. Anyone who doesn’t like it (my emotional ink) or my tattoos can go dry hump Sarah Palin on a block of ice surrounded by polar bears.
I wear them all proudly – my stories. Took me 38 years to get here (trudging through a load of shit, joy and assorted tribulations along the way), so who am I to tell any one of my 38 years worth of stories that they’re not worth my attention? Attention is due, so I wear them and could give a frog’s fine ass hair who sees what. You do business with me, love me, are my friend – you love them, too. I finally decided to follow my heart and my heart has never…ever…led me awry. While it doesn’t take the smoothest of paved roads each time, I’ve never not valued the scenery its shown me along the way.
I love this piece. I identify with enormous helpings of it. I'm a late-comer to your writing, having been tipped off only today by Lindsay Bell at Jugnoo that I ought to read the guest piece you wrote for them. It's very cool the way you used the tattoo as a metaphor yet kept it perfectly balanced between the literal and figurative. Very cool!
I've lived an interesting and varied life, and it shows. I'm just about covered in interesting stories, life lessons and unchangeable beliefs. Looking like I do, it's still fairly obvious why I don't hang out with a bunch of inked-up riffraff and instead spend my days with intelligent, well-spoken educated people. Judge less, interact more. Next time we meet, we can discuss why I decided to put the Serendipity books adorable big-eyed baby sea dragon logo as my tramp stamp :P
I really like your blog post here. It is very interesting on several levels. I think back to my second Tattoo. I had to get it at High Voltage Tattoo. While I was there, I talked to one of the front desk people. We had a very interesting conversation about her life and tattoos. She had several good jobs helping people as a Social Worker. She was pretty heavily tattooed. She had full sleeves, and more. When she would work with people, she wore sleeves so that her tats could not be seen. Then, when she wore shorter sleeves, people took a different view of her. Unfortunately, even though she took responsibility for her ink, and embraced her ink, she actually suffered discrimination! Wow, what a great person, and she demonstrated that in her work with people. And then, the very people she was helping turned on her. Although Ink has gone mainstream, there still are people out there that think people who have ink are somehow "bad." I guess they have not come to terms with their own "ink."
I think I love you...thank you. It's tough following your heart and even tougher wearing it for the world to see.
GREAT post, thank you so much! I've got a milestone birthday coming up in May and will be getting inked to celebrate. Since it's the Year of the Dragon, and I'm a Dragon, I'm getting... a Dragon! The longer I live, and the more *life-ink* I acquire, the easier it gets to just let my freak flag fly. It just feels good.
I'm so glad that I just found your blog today, this post cracks me up. Especially that part basically saying "what if people judge you" or something, LMAO I have a tattoo on my arm that is a picture that my daughter grew and I've even had people lick their finger and try to lick it off...totally cracks me up. Tattoo's are beautiful and an expression of something we care about on some level...Cheers to you and your Tat's!!! (I totally mean that to all of you who have tattoos...
*smiles* I wouldn't trade "my stuff" for "your stuff" ever. I'm who I am because of mine, and you're who you are because of yours. I own my stuff and use it to keep writing the story of me. Each day that story is more and more the way I want it to look, not the way the world wants it to look.
In a hotel room alone in one of the busiest cities in the world feeling as lonely as hell...and crawled to your blog and chanced upon this post. Bawling. Thank you so much for writing this; the last line was so very potent. love, steph
Again, I find this post months after it's scribing, but I have to say that I began reading it thinking it was some big eff you to people who have shunned one for having visible ink in the corporate world and was ready to run the gamut of comments about how corporate America is sucking the life from individuality and our right of physical expression and all that horse shit. I am not some anti-Christ or conspiracy theorist or one who bucks "The Man". I am, however one experienced in being passe over for employment that I was overqualified for due to having visible tattoos only to see some uneducated woman 10 years younger gain the position simply by exposing enough cleavage to allow the manager to pass over the fact that she could not properly for a sentence and wouldn't know how to tie her own shoe without the "Bunny goes through the hole" poem. I find it refreshing that this post incorporated ones emotional ink (referred to as scars in my family) as well as the physical we wear for others to see. I have to say that I am in a place to agree, but only recently. I have found that while I am not vomit-worthy happy in all things in my life, at 31 I have been married to a very hard working husband, have 3 awesomely brilliant villain in training children and am "this close" to finally achieving my associates degree. Yes, I did shit backwards, so sue me. I had kids, got married, THEN went to college, at least I made it that far. So NAH! Every horrible and asinine decision I've made throughout my life has brought me to the place I am right now. While this place isn't some beautiful mansion with a 60 foot pool and groundskeepers at my disposal, it's also not a cardboard box downtown begging for spare change to buy meth. I have been the screw up, the asshole, the super-bitch and what people thought was a useless waste of space. I have put my parents through hell and tears (as a teenager, but I really wasn't as bad as some of the people I knew, so they should be thankful). But all of these things have made me a decent parent, a fairly good [non-Suzy effin' Homemaker] wife and a straight A honor's society college student with a goal to get paid to tell people that they suck at life. I have no qualms about telling people to back off or about showing my visible ink or owning up to the effed up things I've done. If I did, who would I be? What kind of example would that set for my kids? I've stopped holding my tongue for fear of reprisals, I've stopped giving a shit about what other people think of how I dress, what my tattoos look like, or my hair color of the week. (though it's been a boring but pretty blonde for almost a year) I've grown and evolved from every one of the choices I've made, good, bad or indifferent. I wear tributes to my family, my beliefs and my journey on my skin for others to see. If they ask, I'll explain. If they judge and sputter, I'll tell them to suck it. We all have our paths to follow. I will continue to follow mine and I will tell the story through my skin and own up to my mistakes and be accountable for my actions, thoughts and words. We all should do the same. (except the skin part, some people just aren't awesome enough for real bad ass ink)
I have no tattoos but plenty of ink. I think you totally ROCK! I learned to wear my own skin and found I too liked it rather well. I don't apologize quite so much anymore but I laugh at myself and life. May your days get better and those around you ever more true.
I absolutely LOVE your writing style, and find it (and your personality) very inspiring. I am a freelance copywriter who sometimes struggles with the social demand to dress and look professional for Chamber of Commerce meetings or other non-casual events. However, it's never felt like ME attending those events... and I strongly believe you should be yourself in all situations. If somebody judges me by the way I look, not by the quality of my work, then it's their loss. Love your tattoo also and would love to hear the story behind it. My latest work is a cover up. I always had a funny story about the original (an Elmer Fudd looking devil I got when I was 14 because my mother would not let me get my tongue pierced, but she said I could get a tattoo instead.) It is a "fallen fairy" with tattered butterfly wings riding on a tiger, and it's quite large and visible. There is a ton of small detail and personal meaning/symbolism to this tattoo, and it's one I refuse to cover up for any event just to appear professional. In summary, I agree and I love how you put it together... don't hide yourself!
"...as it’s the reason you can stand in front of the people you love…and have them love you back." Or the reason you recoil in front of the people you love and hide the ink, so they will love you back. Some ink is darker.
Erika, just found your blog thanks to my friend Marsha Collier. Fantastic. Love this post and your use of metaphor. And as it happens to be on spot for me at the moment,,,well life is like that if you pay attention. Thanks Penny
I will forever wear an old-school "Mighty Ducks" hockey team logo (yeah, the one from the Disney films) on my left arm because, in 2o07, when my 10 year old daughter guaranteed me they would win the cup that year (keeping in mind she made this prediction 6 months before the Cup finals), I bet her a Ducks tattoo (for me only) that there was NO WAY IN HELL they were going to win the Stanley Cup that year. She sat with me, grinning the whole time, as I was inked with my new logo along with the initials "4SW" (for Sommer Wild). It's one of the best stories we have between us. I cherish this tattoo...not as much as my Minnesota WILD tattoo, but it's a very close second.
As no one else has, and if you don't mind me asking, what does the text in the picture say? I can't quite make it out.
Ericka, I found you while researching for information on small businesses, social marketing, content writing, and SEO. I'm a recent graduate of design school, have been working for a small photography studio for the past four years while in school. I have recently been "promoted" to Social Media Coordinator and Lead Designer. In reality, I'm the only designer and I am personally vested in this company. We are on the brink of an entire re-branding. Needless to say, I'm stressed, panicked, and incredibly excited about this opportunity. So, now that you have some background (more like a landscape backdrop, sorry) I wanted to tell you that I am likewise a redhead with a sharp tongue (and tattoos) who has always felt like I had to edit myself to make everyone else more comfortable. You have given me incredible inspiration to own who I am and how I am with no regrets. You've encouraged me to carve out my own niche and on my own terms. I just wanted to tell you thank you so much, this was perfect timing for me and you will never know how much this post has meant to me. An Eager Noob, Angela
Thanks for this, Erica, this post really hit home. I'm an inked lady as well, with Celtic and Tibetan work covering most of my back and onto my hips & belly ... and I want more, onto my shoulders. I worked in the corporate world for almost 20 years (just turned 40) and started getting tattoos when I was 25, so I've had my share of jerkwads who, once they saw my ink, they didn't see ME. I'm now a VA with a successful practice - making more than I ever did in the corporate world - and the clients I work with love me for ME, some even more so because of my ink! I've been down many rough roads myself and have plenty of internal "ink" that I carry as well. Many roads I'd never travel again and am amazed to this day that I escaped unscathed (relatively), but I don't regret and would not take back a single moment spent hoofing it down even the most rugged, torn up of those roads. Every insane or joyful moment we experience makes us who we are - and I like who I am ... and I've learned to tell anyone who doesn't like me as much as I like me to bit the bag. Good, bad or ugly, I think the world would be a better place if more people could not only accept others' ink (literally and metaphorically) but could learn to accept their OWN ink, wear it proudly and use it to make THEIR world a better place.
A thousand times, this, on all it's levels. As a woman who writes her story in permanent black ink on her skin, and fuck anyone who is offended or judges me for it, I love you for this post.
I love this post - I have been thinking about getting my first tattoo for my upcoming birthday (25th). I have been through a lot in my life and I want to always remember what I've overcome. We all have emotional and physical scars that we carry with us, so I want to put something beautiful and permanent on my skin to give me strength. Thanks so much for writing this!
You rock! I have a similar koi fish and partial sleeve on my left arm. Ink is my own personal expression and I choose to show it on the outside. Let's get more ink!
this is the best thing I have read about me and my ink lol Seriously, when you reveal that you are 38, and I already knew you are a redhead, I almost felt like I might really be the real-life US of Tara and you are really me! Will you allow me to include a link to this when I write my own entry about the thoughts that I have on my own ink because you are my inspiration? Fully credited of course... http://bit.ly/ig4PAS
Love it! got my first actual ink (finally!) this past january and I couldn't be happier.. it means something to me and all my 36 years of stuff.. like you I'm finally living as me and don't view what others may call baggage as baggage..its the sum of my life and who I am today - the good and the bad and i'm cool with it! thanks for a great post.. :)
Hi Erika Just found you via @SandiAmorim:twitter Fantastic article - I love my ink it all means something and is never hidden. Kate x
I felt like you were talking directly to me this morning. I don't have a giant revelatory comment to leave, but I wanted very much to let you know this touched me in some very deep places today. I'm very grateful for your ink.
Really enjoyed this post. I don't have any tattoos myself and will most likely never get one. But I say if you're going to get a tattoo that means something to you, that says something about you, why wouldn't you put it in a visible place.
I love you in a girl crush kinda way and am lovin this most recent post (as well as the others). It's like you are in my head sometimes. I'm an inked girl and love the story with the tat I have and really want more. Lovin the theory that we are all inked in one fashion or another. So true. Thank you for the spark of inspiration this morning!
I have a tattoo of a white rose dripping red paint (think Alice in Wonderland's "painting the roses red"). I wanted it as a reminder of some bad times in my life and how you can keep going, keep moving forward to make the situation better. Problem is, people always think it's rose dripping blood. Someone once asked me if it insults me or upsets me, knowing that people never understand the tattoo unless I explain it. I thought for a second and told her no...because I didn't get it for other people, I got it for myself.
G'Day Erika, There 'ya go. Personally tatts have never been my scene. But I haven't had a full face shave since February 1963. I'm planning a big celebration for my beard's 50th birthday in 2013. For those of your readers who don't believe beards are such a big deal, be assured that they were awfully thin on the ground in Melbourne, Australia in the 1960s. Everyone assumed that I was a sailor, a scientist working in the Antarctic or a rampant exhibitionist. Come to think of it........ So facial hair's my ink. I should say one of my inks cos we all have more than one. But like a tatt, it's fairly obvious. And I'm pleased to say that I still have some hair on my head too. "Call me irresponsible," if you wish. But I'd prefer to be called "hirsute." Sounds like a good name for a slow ballad! Flaunt those tatts Erika. I'll continue to brandish my beard. And make sure....... Regards Leon
I was referred to this article by a friend of mine on Facebook...you may want to check out a few of the articles I have written on the concepts of tattoos and agency.
WOW! I just sat there and read that whole post on my tiny iPhone screen and now I'm going to read it again on the computer. That is an amazing post on many different levels snd could connect with many on different levels too. I'm going to share this post as I think more people should read it. This would be a great inspirational post for the human race full stop!
Right on, Kristin - and thanks for stopping by and sharing YOUR ink! Glad to have you in our 'hood here :)
I have a feeling you love your path as much as I love mine, Steph. Thanks for dropping by from afar :)
It's the last part of ee cumming's "Since Feeling is First." "Don't cry - the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelids' flutter which says we are for each other. Then laugh, leaning back in my arms, for life's not a paragraph and death I think is no parentheses."
You're most certainly welcome, Brenna. And it's always great to see your face pop up in my comments stream. Keep inkin'.
Leon, having only known you WITH your beard, I can't think of you without it. Who are others to determine what's a part of us and what's not? Keep growing. I'll keep inking :) Always great to see you in my inbox when I wake up.