Tag Archives: tattoos

on Reversing a “Permanent” Decision

It’s difficult to look at a decision, however small or large, that was made in good faith, and then to later realize it is no longer applicable, no longer the correct course of action, no longer the right attitude for the present.

Occasionally these things happen. In some cases we don’t even realize the impact of the decision being faced, in others we understand its permanence, but not how time will shift our opinions.

We can see, some time after settling on our choice, results beginning to develop that weren’t intended, or we might find that what was supposed to work forever can only work for a little while.

Ten years ago in January I put a tattoo on the inside of my left forearm – six black script letters, spelling out the word “WISDOM.”

Ten years I’ve worn it, at first with pride, then with some reservations, and finally, with regret.

It’s never too late to change things that aren’t working out, so I’m having the tattoo removed. I actually began the removal process several years ago, and gave up – but decided to see the painful experience through to its completion.

The process is unpleasant, to say the least – five to seven treatments with a Q-Switched laser throwing its beam under my skin, where it explodes ink particles that will then somehow ‘recycle’ back into my body and disappear. It is much costlier and more expensive than the tattoo’s arrival was.

Time is a challenging landscape to navigate. I think of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks and Thomas Mann’s ‘Magic Mountain’ and other places where time skips and floats and jumps in unpredictable ways. We know what it looks like on a calendar, but how do we know what a year, or ten, will actually feel like?

The best we can do, once we’ve realized that a decision was made in error, is make our best effort to reduce its harm, redact its statement, or remove its stain. It’s never too late to make a change. Maybe nothing is really permanent, after all.

On Being a Tattooed Person

Various analysts see being tattooed as indicating a penchant for violence (Newman, 1982), a tendency toward self-destructive behavior (Burma, 1965; Kurtzberg et al., 1967; Taylor, 1970), a pathological need for attention (Haines and Huffman, 1958), or a tendency to engage in certain forms of property crime (Haines and Huffman, 1958; Orten and Bell, 1974).

Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing

How should a tattooed person react to a statement like that? Each source was published between 1958-1982. Has so much changed since then? If I go down the list, I can check off the afflictions that I feel safe saying aren’t mine:

  • A penchant for violence:  I don’t have this. I was in a fight once, in kindergarten.  I punched a boy named Brad because I thought his name sounded dumb.  I have never punched anyone again. (But I still don’t have any friends named Brad)
  • A tendency toward self destructive behavior: I guess this depends on how ‘self-destructive behavior’ is defined.  Do I cut myself?  No.  Do my feet hurt from running 25 miles a week?  Sure.  Do I dance in the middle of the freeway?  No.  Have I ever been hopelessly romantic?  Yep.
  • A pathological need for attention:  OK, this is dumb. Anyone born after the early eighties who has access to the internet is a completely narcissistic self-broadcasting robot.  I’m not sure there’s any correlation to the tattoos.
  • A tendency to engage in certain forms of property crime: I was disciplined for silly teenage graffiti once – it wasn’t serious, and happened years before I had any tattoos. Now that I have my own property to destroy, drawing on other people’s isn’t as thrilling. I’m not a vandal, and don’t know any other tattooed people who are.

Body Part

Hidden under three layers of skin, buried under hair, sweat, and sunburn, tiny bubbles of black ink stain the inside of my left forearm. Five letters and one symbol, each an inch squared, spell out the word “Wisdom.”

I sat in a chair like the kind you do at the dentist’s office while a rough, goateed man repeatedly plunged a sharp needle into my arm, transmitting the black liquid to a place in my body where it will stay, forever.

Five years and three more regrettable tattoos later, the dark word has faded slightly, but still shows easily enough that I try and hide it in the company of strangers and children. Whatever high-minded thoughts I harbored when I commissioned this enterprise I have forgotten, lost, abandoned, and revoked.

“What does that say?” I used to have no problem answering when some curious person would try and lift my arm up to their eyes and analyze the markings. Now, I just tell them that it doesn’t matter, or that I want to have it removed, or I reluctantly show them and quickly change the subject.

“Well, now you’ll have to get ‘Stupid’ on the other one,” my Dad volunteered when he first saw it. Not a bad idea, but I can just imagine how exhausting it would be to have to explain them both.