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.