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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

336: because you asked so nicely

The in-progress shots taken by Meryl, Shawn's wife:

The final-product, though a-little-hurty shots taken by the tattoo artist himself:

The wrapped-in-plastic, on-the-road-to-recovery shots taken by my husband at home (where he fed me homemade waffles and orange juice):

Honestly? It didn't hurt all that much. Just felt like those nicks you get from shaving. Over and over and over again. And I realize this area of my body is the most adaptable to this sort of pain, so the gold sticker I might feel I deserve is ridiculous.

For those who are curious, it took six hours and fifteen minutes of sit time.

I'm amazed at the amount of work that went into this tattoo. It really is awfully amazing, isn't it?

And Meryl kept me company the whole time, and we nattered on about poetry and other distracting topics. I need to spend more time with that sweet poetess and her hoosband. Them's good peoples.

Thanks again, Shawn.

I can't wait to see what you're going to do on that letterpress!

PS: I'll post some healed pictures too, promise.

Edit to add: Shawn's post about the one-of-a-kind-tattoo. (He even warned Meryl, when she was oohing over how neat it is: "Don't get any ideas! I'm not doing this again!")

335: the story of a tattoo

While I was at Bread Loaf, I met this girl, whose name I can no longer recall, who had the most beautiful tattoo--a pair of poems twined together on her arm. I marveled at the tattoo from a distance, and snuck this shot during the Robert Frost talk at his cabin in the woods.

I already knew of Shawn through Meryl, one of my fellow poets in the program, and we'd been emailing, discussing a tattoo Kelly and I have been considering for much too long. It takes a while for two people to settle into something permanent such as this, though I think the friendship took a bit less time.

But when I saw the above tattoo, my lack of patience went into hyperdrive, and I began a dialogue with the ever patient Shawn on how to do something like this on my own arm.

First: settling on the poem. It had to be something I loved, and though some, who I've told I'm getting a poem tattoo, have asked if it would be one of my own, I cringed--it seems narcissistic, and somehow, I don't believe my own words are at a place that could claim that kind of permanence. Not on my own body, especially.

Sharon Olds has always been my favorite poet. Since I was a junior in high school. And this poem speaks to me on so many levels, and that last line, oh, that last line:

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it--she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

It felt so right. Which led to contemplation: what shape would this poem take? The above tattoo seems to be based on a flower, and I'd been hoping the poem I'd select would lend itself to something obvious--but no pillars, no paper dolls. Instead, Shawn suggested two of something, for the two figures in the poem, and if I weren't already talking birds with my friend Kelly, he'd suggest that one, which led me to wings--the poem in the end seems to be about a kind of freedom, a revenge to bad memories. Also, I read this from an interview with Sharon Olds:

What did you mean when you once said that your poetry comes out of your lungs?

[Laughs] Well, you know, it's curious where different people think their mind is. I guess a lot of people believe that their mind is in their brain, in their head. To me, the mind seems to be spread out in the whole body -- the senses are part of the brain. I guess they're not where the thinking is done. But poetry is so physical, the music of it and the movement of thought. Maybe we can use a metaphor for it, out of dance. I think for many years I was aware of the need, in dance and in life, to breathe deeply and to take in more air than we usually take in. I find a tendency in myself not to breathe very much. And certainly I have noticed, over the years, when dancing or when running, that ideas will come to my mind with the oxygen. Suddenly you're remembering something that you haven't thought of for years.

Wings, lungs. The senses, which are so important to both her work and my own.

So he sketched this for me:

Shawn has a special knack, I must add, for what he calls "illustrative realism." He creates these amazing creatures with such imagination.

Here are some of my favorites he has put up on his blog: book birdhouse and the opposite arm's bird as well as these shoulder doilies. Some other clever designs: the bird/swine flu, this crazed penguin, this brainwashed sheep, airline safety, the drag king and queen, and many others.

He added the words, and from a distance (hence, my keeping it thumbnail size), you can see the wings still:

But I also wanted to include the larger draft, so you could see the way all the words interact. My favorite about the top tattoo is the way the words interact, overlap, mingle.

Thank you, Shawn: for doing this in trade, for being so patient with me as I "line edited" the wings, for doing this on your day off, for being so encouraging, for having an awesome wife who is going to be my own cheering section and reminds me how cool poetry is, for being so good at PhotoShop, for making art for all the world to see. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Need a tattoo and live in the area? Shawn's your man. Seriously.)

I'll post pictures of the finished project later. For now, I'm off to shower and drive to Identity Tattoo in Maple Grove. I'm not nervous at all, I swear.

PS: All images, save the top one, are copyright Shawn Hebrank.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

334: more good things

(in our neighborhood, not cropped. love these quiet encounters, so close.)

Saturday: On the Mississippi River with good friends. Wrote a draft of a poem while floating along. Loved that cozy, full feeling of being in-the-moment.

Sunday: Wet dog noses. Waffles for breakfast. Sitting on the back patio with a book. Preparing for a manuscript conference with Adam Zagajewski.

Monday: Sleeping in, if only a little. Reading Michael Ondaatje's The Cinnamon Peeler.

Tuesday: Such a full day! Drove our visiting author to MPR, where I sat quietly in the glass-walled building, listening in on the interview; did not miserably fail in my first catering selection for lunch with author and MFAs; did not topple over as day moved on to teaching and office hours and thesis class; had a wonderful meeting to discuss chapbooks; enjoyed evening visiting author reading.

Wednesday: Long telephone conversation with my oldest and dearest friend. Feels good to simply talk and talk and talk. And talk. Started running with my husband again after dark. Final design for Sunday's well, you-know, arrived; I am smitten.

Thursday: Invitation to a favorite person's engagement party arrived in the mail. Two dogs + me + husband snuggling on the loveseat, a leggy twining. Picking raspberries off the bush.

Friday: To Chanhassen Dinner Theatre for the first time ever, enjoying its cruise-ship swanky glory to celebrate my oldest and dearest friend's upcoming golden birthday. Always amazed at the comfortable rhythm we make. And a double date--complete with gooey dessert. Go, go, go Joe!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

333: State Fair, 2009

Ryan and I took my former student Brianna to the State Fair several weekends ago, and I've only just now realized I failed to celebrate that fact on the blog. We met up with Kelly and her husband Richard, who go to the fair armed with food-plans. This is my third State Fair, all with Kelly: see 2008 and 2006.