I’m thinking of getting another tattoo.
For some people, this is no big deal. Their bodies might be covered with artwork, one more blending into an already illustrious canvas. But for me? It’s a big deal.
The three tattoos I have are all circa 1999 and 2000. At the time, people told me, gleefully, that tattoos were addictive — and what was I going to get next?! But I shrugged and said I was good. I was full. My skin satiated. And it was.
The years went by. I live in Los Angeles now, land of tattoo shops. I think there are at least five walking distance from my house, but I’m not sure exactly. I’ve never looked closely, because I’m done getting tattoos. That’s something young people do. Me? I’m almost forty.
But here’s the thing. I’ve got a tattoo on my arm that I’m sick of. It feels out of date. It’s no longer relevant. It feels like a relic from another era. I’ve been patiently waiting for tattoo removal technology to improve so that I could get rid of it. At least, that was the plan until recently.
Then, a few weeks ago, I became obsessed with another option. I could get another tattoo on top of it. I could get another tattoo.
I began investigating tattoo shops and designs. I met with a tattoo artist and sketched out a design. Plans are in motion. I have a date and a time set to imprint this new piece of color and design onto my skin. I’m pretty confident that I’m doing the right thing, but it still feels weird. I never thought I’d get another tattoo, and certainly not this close to forty.
But, in a way, that also feels like the point. I look at photos of my former high school classmates from my recent twenty year reunion (!) and am reminded of that fact that I am not like the others. I am not forty and married and with children. I am leading a lifestyle that outside the beaten path. So why shouldn’t I get a tattoo to commemorate pushing that? Why shouldn’t I get a tattoo to reflect the fact that I do not own a minivan and several small children? Why shouldn’t I acknowledge the fact that soccer practice does not yet enter my social calendar? Maybe I should get a tattoo to commemorate reaching forty.
But it feels weird. Because tattoos are things you do in your twenties, when you’re young and reckless and living in the East Village. When youth is your calling card and you have attitude to spare. Now? Now I’m the oldest person (by far) in my PhD cohort. Now my Facebook feed is full of photos of my friend’s children. Now I’m old(er). Now I blend in.
But my new tattoo won’t blend in. My tattoo design centers around a lotus in bloom. A bright pink lotus. I love the lotus because of its cycle of emerging from dirty, muddy ponds over a period of a few days. Despite emerging from such a muddy and dirty environment, the lotus flower remains clean, associating it with rebirth, rising and blooming above the muck to represent enlightenment and purity and strength and resilience. All humans are born in a world where there is suffering. Buddhism argues that this suffering is a vital part of the human experience; it makes us stronger and teaches us to resist the temptation of evil. When we banish evil thoughts from our mind, we are able to break free of the muddy water. The mud shows us who we are and teaches us to choose the right path over the easy one.
So here we are, with me almost forty, with me on this new path I have chosen, struggling in a city which has not made things easy, in a program which forces me to second-guess myself almost daily, re-creating myself yet again. In many ways, I do feel like I’m in NYC for the first time, remaking myself, starting a new band and a new life and a new path. I want to be like the lotus. I want to remain true to myself despite my surroundings. I want to be unwavering. I want to be reborn.
And yet, somehow, getting a tattoo now feels more terrifying, more radical, and even less appropriate than it did when I was twenty-three.
But maybe, for all those reasons, it’s exactly the right thing to do.