Wednesday, September 30, 2009

337: on being tattooed and attention

(not a healed picture--instead, another just-after image)

I should know better. I read Meryl's essay (pdf, pg 190). This, from a woman whose tattoo extends onto her hand. I knew.

But I'm pleased at how my tattoo looks. I love wearing my heart on my sleeve, so to speak, and proclaiming that love of language by transferring it onto the body.

And, of course, in the days since the tattoo, the air has drawn sharply colder, and wearing short sleeves about is ridiculous. For now, I'm wearing short sleeves beneath cardigans, so when I enter Lind, I can slip out of it and show off my arm-art.

I've gotten a lot of good attention. Maxine Hong Kingston, visiting writer, touched my arm at dinner tonight and said, "I love this." (By the way, I'm posting pictures and musings from the reading in this post on my other blog.)

My classmates seem to really love it too.

This all makes sense. We all love words.

But I hadn't quite been prepared, not mentally though the logic was in place, for the strange attention. Nothing negative just yet, but:

At last night's reading (see post about it on the other blog), I tried to do something sneakily, but failed, and hushed the thank-yous in an embarrassing manner, and a woman in the audience said something about my only wanting to seem tough (or something like that). I wasn't quite sure what she meant until I realized my wearing all black / brown and having a giant tattoo--was this it? Did I seem "tough" because I had a large amount of permanent scrawl on my arm? I demurred, saying I was awfully squishy, my friends knew that, and Amanda was kind enough to say, "You're squishy and tough" (oh, I only wish I were tough).

Tonight, an audience member cornered me for a bit until a professor rescued me, asking about other secret, hidden tattoos. Erm.

I know, I may be brash here, I may be completely willing to share with you the foibles of my body, but I'm finding, surprisingly, that there are limitations to what I will share and where I will share it. Here, I don't mind telling about a tattoo I had at eighteen, a tramp stamp, so to speak, and how my ex-girlfriend held my hand as I swore and my little sister stood behind and watched--but not to some strange man who might have had too much wine at the reception beforehand.

And yes, yes, yes, I do not claim to not know I would get attention. But in my dim mind, the part that cloisters things off, I hadn't thought about how I might feel or react to misconceptions of my personality--having this thing makes people feel as if doors have opened in conversation.

And I didn't, truly no!, do it for the attention anyway. I did it because I love language, I love this poem, I love the way visual poetry looks, I love the talent of some artists, I love the way words on the body intersect with so many gorgeous things (I used to write drafts of poems on Ryan's arms when we first started dating; he won't let me do it any more). I suppose I'll have to adapt to this strange attention and now understand, on a new level, just what Meryl was talking about when she mentions the annoyances of the grocery store gawkers.


shawn hebrank said...

yeah, you're lucky it's just your shoulder. multiply that 30x, and that's what my hands and neck are like.
"what about when you're 80?"
"what does your mom think?"

if you're not tough now, you'll be there soon.

Molly said...

When I am eighty, I will have a wrinkled parchment. But I will love it just the same. Dammit.

(Yeah, I've gotten the what-about-when-you're-older? question, but meh. Eye roll.)

margosita said...

Oh, I hate that "what about when you're older?" question. How about, when I'm older I'll love my younger self and proud of what the tattoo means, no matter how it looks. And also, do I need to look perfect my whole life, Judgey McJudgerson?"

Also, Molly, have you seen Contrariwise: Literary tattoos? Hands down your tattoo would be the best I've seen there, should you submit it. :)

chelsea said...

i remember the first time someone pulled at my shirt from behind on the subway in New York to see if my back was tattooed. And, unfortunately, I have that experience almost monthly. I also have had grown men grab at the neck of my shirts, trying to see what my chest tattoo says.

I've given many lectures on inappropriate touches, only to have adults snip, "Why do you have tattoos if you didn't want the attention?"

It's taken me seven years to almost see their point. For job interviews I keep covered up, not because it's tabu or I don't think I'll get the job with tattoos, but because I don't want to be answering questions about them when I should be bragging about my resume.

Yes, I have a lot of tattoos.

Yes, they each mean something different to me.

Sure, I'll give you the name and number of where I get my work done.

Oh, you want to get your first tattoo and want to tell me all about it... sure...

You are now part of a community that people feel compelled to confront, question, and unload on. You have become an authority, a oddity, and so much more. Good luck, sis.