I thought when I turned 30 I’d get a tattoo. I didn’t get a tattoo when I turned 30, because it just so happened that for that particular birthday I was unemployed and broke. So I thought maybe when I was 31. But though I had a few different ideas floating around my head, I couldn’t settle on anything. Lines from a poem? But which poem? I LIKE SO MANY POEMS. Song lyrics? Same problem as with the poems. The stick figures shaking hands on the cover of OK Computer? A tree with three blackbirds in it like that bit in that Wallace Stevens poem?1
So I didn’t really have a plan, anyway, and decided I would leave it until I was feeling more decisive. Maybe I’d have it figured out by the time I was 32.
Sometime during the last year, while she was still going through chemo, Missy said that when she was done with all of it — the chemo, the surgeries — we were going to go get tattoos to mark the occasion of her surviving cancer. This was a brilliant idea, and I knew I was going to have to sort it out. And I eventually did. I decided on the phrase “always hope” which is the closest thing to a personal motto that I have.2 And I thought it would look pretty cool in Arabic, because let’s face it — everything looks cool in Arabic. I found a calligrapher who does tattoo design and made a mental note for when I was ready to go. He does beautiful work, for one thing, and for another thing, he’s literate in Arabic, which makes a huge difference.3 And finally I decided I would have it designed in the shape of a blackbird, not so much because of Wallace Stevens, though I do tend to get bits of “Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird” stuck in my head like song lyrics, but because of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is, a) one of my all-time favorite songs, and b) seemed to fit the phrase perfectly.4
It’s been a process, getting to the point where it was time for us to go get the tattoos, which I will not go into, but we went last night.5 We went to Body Armor in Kalamazoo, which was recommended by a co-worker who has an amazing Mayan dragon on her back, and I was glad we wound up there — it was a fun experience. And now I feel like I have a sunburn on my arm, but it’s not a sunburn. It’s a rad tattoo.
So, that happened. And then we went to Jimmy John’s.
1. This bit:
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
2. Wherein “hope” is a verb.
3. I’ve seen some fairly wretched Arabic tattoos (I guess this is a thing now) where the calligraphy was all wrong and the characters weren’t joined and they looked ridiculous and also didn’t really say anything. They were just like a series of characters. So I guess the lesson there is that if you’re going to get a tattoo in a language you have no understanding of, you’d better be sure you trust that the person who does the design for you isn’t a hack.
4. True story: back when I was a Sunday School teacher (it sometimes feels like I have lived a hundred different lives by now), I once used the song “Blackbird” to illustrate a lesson about… I don’t know, something. I was always bringing in bits of pop culture to illustrate lessons — a photo of Chris Cornell to explain that Absalom was kind of like a hot rock star in his day, the witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to demonstrate that Monty Python is awesome and probably some other Biblical thing with which I could make a tenuous connection to Monty Python, and then the Beatles song. And you know, I played that song and the kids (teenagers) laughed and said I was lame, you know, because apparently I should’ve brought in something awesome, like Creed (and it was at that point when I realized that their immortal souls needed a lot of prayer).
5. We also went on Saturday, but that didn’t work out according to plan, and we had to go back home and give ourselves pedicures and watch Under the Tuscan Sun because we’re so badass.