Read My Back. Or My Arm. Or Something.

Literary tattoos have always fascinated me, and it seems that most of the literary types I know have some sort of tattoo or another.  I, myself, have pseudo-literary ink: a castle on a cloud, with a quote from Les Miserables (the musical, not the book–even though I’ve never actually seen the musical.  Don’t ask.)  If I had continued with my original plans for self-decoration (you’re learning so much about me, aren’t you?), I would also have an Emily Dickinson poem on my right shoulder (“I’m Nobody–who are you?”).  In fact, what convinced me to go with the particular artist who tattooed me was a beautiful picture of Alice (of Wonderland fame) that he had done on a woman’s calf.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered a website devoted entirely to literary tattoos: www.contrariwise.org.

Of course, my teen years ended and I got married and–let’s face it–I grew up.  So I stopped with the ink.  I still consider tattooing from time to time, most often toying with the idea of an asterisk on my wrist (sort of literary–more grammatical, I guess), but I don’t have the courage or idealism or whatever it was that got me in that tattoo shop in the first place.  I got boring.  I succumbed to the idea that family, employers, etc. would look down on visible inkage.  Maybe one day, when I’m a famous author and no one has to hire me, I’ll face the needle again.  (I hear you laughing at me.  Let me dream.)  And if I do, I think I’ll go with words.  The Dickinson poem, definitely.  I would have gravitated toward Alice in Wonderland, but the website has so many examples of Carroll-inspired tattoos, I think I might feel unoriginal.  I suppose I have a lot of time to think about it.

But why choose words?  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then aren’t picture tattoos more economical?  And what about the logistics?  It can be difficult for a tattoo artist to keep the lines straight as they write on you; the curves of your body are not the flat surface of the page.  What we choose to keep permanently displayed on our skin is so telling.  I have a friend who has a Bible verse on one arm and song lyrics across her belly.  I have uncles whose ink ranges from skulls and crossbones to naked ladies.  My dad, before he removed it, had a happy face and crossbones above a Harley Davidson logo.  You’re getting an idea of who these people are, aren’t you?

For me, words are a huge part of my life.  If we made a pie chart, they might take up half the pie.  I’m always talking, writing, listening, reading.  When somebody says something that hits me (like Dickinson’s poem), I keep it.  You could say there are things tattooed on my brain.  So maybe I don’t need to put them on my skin.  Maybe I’ll have T-shirts printed if I want people to read me.

6 Comments

  • tanya debuff says:

    Tee shirts with Dickinson lines! I like it. We should all choose a line we love and have it printed on a tee shirt. I like the tattoo idea, too. I’ve wanted a tattoo on the top of my foot for a long time. Just don’t know if I will ever get around to it.

  • cgreenfield says:

    I think poem t-shirts could be a good idea to consider. Maybe a way to fund a writing career =)

    on another note I two of my have word tattoos on their feet. If you can stand the pain they look pretty awesome. I think one said truth on one foot and on the other foot it said life.

  • Asa Maria says:

    Like a Vonnegut asterisk?

  • Elizabeth Stanley Powers says:

    I got my lit tattoo (and first tattoo) as a graduation present to myself last year. As you say, a person’s ink says a lot about who they are. I think words are such a huge part of my life as well, that it made more sense to use a word then an image. And it also acted as an outlet to remember what’s important to me, even upon entering the dreaded real world.

    So far it hasn’t given me job troubles (although, most of the adults I work with have their share of ink as well) but it has kept me writing with some frequency. And, when I finally get an interview for a new job, I have a handy silver bracelet that covers it perfectly.

  • Angel Morris says:

    I love tattoos and don’t for a second regret getting any of them, I’m currently getting a dragon tattoo done down my right arm can’t wait to get it all done! as can only afford smallsittings at a time. My local tattoo artist is extremly good and also extremly expensive but, he’s worth it! Great site btw

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