Tattooing as Storytelling


Storytelling takes place across a variety of media, from creative expression that has lasted millennia, like dance and painting, to more traditional forms such as movies, tv shows, and even to modern media like Vine clips and Instagram pics.

Time itself is the universal storyteller, sharing countless stories in as many ways. We read the history of the universe in the light and particles arriving on our planet after millions of years of travel; time reveals the birth and death of civilizations through archeology and carbon-dating; time can even tell our more personal stories.

As Alek observes in Being Human, (I don’t think I’ve ever quoted myself before!), human beings experience “time’s stamp” on their bodies. Young children grow and change at an alarming rate, but the truly indelible marks made by time happen much later.

My body has already been stamped in various ways by time: the stretch marks lining my abdomen tell the story of how much my body altered in order to shelter and grow my two children. My wrinkles and laugh lines chronicle the years of life experiences I’ve already had, hopefully more moments spent helpless with laughter than with brow furrowed in frustration. My grey hairs (my sparkles, as my hair stylist calls them) are stripes of experience. Each freckle is a day spent sailing under the sun. Despite negative messages often perpetrated by media and our society, I try hard to accept time’s stamp, to wear it like a badge.

A tattoo is a way of controlling some of the stories that are told on your body. Some stories are so personal they are only visible to the wearer, to remind you of a strength or ward off a weakness. Some are meant to share with others. Each story exists to capture a life event or express a hope, remind us a significant person or a particular passion.

What if everyone had prominent tattoos to symbolize their goals, their dreams, their deepest stories? These symbolic stories could be used as conversation starters with people we meet instead of making mundane small talk about the weather, where we go to school, how we make money. They could be a gateway to learning something deeper about another person.

I got my first tattoo 20 years ago. Time has even stamped its presence across the tattoo itself: The lines are faded and the ink has bled. It is a black line drawing of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin reading a book.

When I was young — I’m talking the time before I could read — I had a set of two red hardcover short story anthologies and two green poetry books by A.A. Milne, “with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard” (make no mistake, these are the originals, not Disneyfied versions). The simple yet lovely illustrations from those books are forever etched in my head. Often at bedtime, my mother would read to me the short stories about Pooh and his friends, or one of the poems about childhood. I loved the stories, but I loved the poems best. Their rhythm and rhyme tattooed themselves on my brain. I memorized them quickly. Later, I started a club with a group of friends and insisting they learn a poem by heart to gain membership. This tattoo tells a story of the best gift my mother gave me when she read aloud from those books: my lifelong love of words.

My latest tattoo tells the long story of an accomplished goal, a creative collaboration; it is a gateway to a more meaningful part of me than what you see on the outside. It is a stamp of time that I choose.

You cannot predict how being inked will feel until you see it across your own skin. For me, my symbol had unintended consequences. When I see it on my forearm, I’m reminded of the larger themes of Being Human: I feel a stronger kinship with Alek; I feel like a modified human. The image reminds me of the blending of biology and technology. And isn’t that a major theme of our current era? The line we draw between our humanity and the technology we use to improve our lives and ourselves is becoming blurrier. Our technology has become more than a tool, it is an extension of ourselves; we are rarely without it. It are our timekeeper, memory storer, entertainer, and educator.

All this from a little bit of ink under my skin. :)

I am but a book,

my story written in ink

across my pages.