Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Did You Do That?

Twice now, I’ve expressed myself through the painful and permanent art form known as the tattoo.  Painful, in the sense that getting a tattoo hurts.  Permanent in the sense that once it’s on you, it isn’t coming off.  

The basic way to get ink to stay on your body forever is to get it under your skin.   To do that, you use a needle and poke thousands of tiny holes in your skin then rub ink in those holes.   After that, you let your skin heal and if you’ve been good and allowed the scabs to heal on their own, you have ink imbedded in your skin.   Brutal but effective.  Fortunately, the process has been refined somewhat over the years and the means by which the thousands of tiny holes are poked in the skin has improved.   Traditional and much more painful methods of tattoo involved using bamboo slivers and some sort of striking device—probably another piece of bamboo.   While still in use today, this method is rare and usually only practiced ritualistically or as a test of manhood.   Modern day tattoo artists employ tattooing needles that move very quickly by means of a vibrating motor (or something like that).  The movement of the needles is so fast that you don’t feel the individual punctures as much as you feel a steady stream of “pricks” which you invariably find yourself wishing would stop. 

Whether acquired by modern methods or by traditional, it begs the question: Why do it?  The reasons are as diverse as the people who have been tattooed.  Some people do it to feel tough; however, that usually only works if you are already tough.   If you’re kind of wimpy, this may not be the way to assert your toughness.   As mentioned before, it hurts.  If your threshold for pain is low, then you may not even be able to “survive” the process.  Go to any tattoo artist and they’ll have an array of entertaining stories about the tough guy or the tomboy who freaked out at the first touch of the needle.  When it’s over, after you’ve endured what may or may not be a very painful experience—depending on your tolerance for pain and the location on your body—you have a permanent reminder of what you’ve chosen to put yourself through.  For better or worse. 

If you are not motivated by the exhibition of toughness then perhaps you are driven by sentimentality.   Many people have been “inked” to express devotion a lover, a mother, a child, a dog, a lost friend, even a fictional character.   A great many people have chosen to express their love for dolphins or butterflies, lizards, frogs, unicorns, dragons… or any number of creatures real or imagined.  In some cases, the tattoo represents a statement of religious affiliation or spiritual awareness. 

For many, the tattoo is simply a cosmetic consideration; they just look cool.  What cold be cooler than a tattoo of a flaming skull impaled by a jagged sword?  Who wouldn’t want Tweetie Bird on their ankle? 

Me?  My motivation is maybe a little bit of all the above.  Initially, it represented a symbol of solidarity between my brothers and myself.   It was a testament to my ancestral and religious pride… that and my willingness to mutilate my flesh a little to show off.  Also, I thought it would be pretty cool. 

It’s a strange sensation, having a rapidly vibrating cluster of needles dragged across your flesh.  You could say it’s a cross between being cut by a moderately sharp knife wielded by a shivering doctor and the sensation of a deep, un-scratchable itch.  That was on the arm.  The second was on my calf and that one just plain hurt. Imagine someone sticking a pin in your leg then dragging it around to trace an image. I don’t recommend it.  That’s just me though. Some people don’t mind that kind of pain. Some people just don’t feel that kind of pain. I do. 

The end product though… I think it’s pretty cool.  It's something of a conversation piece.   If you bother to ask me about it, I get to tell you a little about my personal philosophy.   It sets me apart from others, just enough.  I’m not much of a rebel or an outsider, but I am a creative man and self-expression is part of the mix.  Who am I?  I’m that guy with the cross on his arm and the weird words on his leg.  OK, I’m more than that, and ultimately that’s what it boils down to.   Are you the kind of person who gets inked or are you not?   It doesn’t really work to judge people on their outside appearance, because the image doesn’t necessary reflect the motivation.  We are all motivated to do what we do.   What motivates us is what defines us.  What we do with our motivations is what we become.