Monday, August 16, 2010

Rat-a-tat-tat by E. Victoria Flynn

(Find Victoria at and

A regular man ordered a regular coffee. He watched my arm as I collected his money and returned the change. “I've always wanted a tattoo,” he said. I flushed, my arm band was talking again. I asked why he hadn't gotten one. “I've always thought a person's body is like a map,” he said. “ All its scars, and marks, and tattoos show where you've been. I haven't found the right one yet.”

I think about his comment and consider my body—a thing that heals, lets me walk around, feel, taste, see, experience—a thing I take for granted. He was talking about skin, what we see after we see shape, and the marks we wear whether by chance or intent.

Some of us, either through long, drawn-out deliberation or a sudden gasp of instant life, remove our inhibitions, plant our feet on the white hot coals of disregard and take a breath. Then we bleed.

We give to get—blood for ink.

It's impossible to know why any one person chooses to map themselves—an act of rebellion, self-possession, a need to scream-out, to cover or uncover, a dream, a commitment, a loss, a birth. It's a human moment if nothing else, a desire to be one's own self.

My tattoos are faded after 14 years in the sun. They never had any color and are now the dark weather-worn gray of time distilled. I hold no regrets. My daughters, still very young, trace the lines around my arm and the raised knotwork on my neck where the artist went too deep. They know what a tattoo is and wear their own mock ink up and down their little bodies.

Unlike my daughters' arrivals brimming with hope and softness, my tattoos were born with a coarse need to speak my youth and independence. Both ink stained spots of skin are a marked point in a personal history, a weighted stand against what I believed to be a mundane crash into adulthood as much as a marriage to the creative spirit.

At the age of 35 I am again being pulled to the buzz and draw of the tattoo gun, to another moment marked. There are no saviors in the ink, but the resounding hum melding with the intensity of physical sensation creates a euphoric reality that will not be dismissed. Some say there is an addiction in tattooing.

Maybe there is.

I can't remember the name of the man in the coffee shop, but his thoughts poured into my mind a unique perspective on body art, that of a living map, a visual memory, one moment made physical.

Are you a proponent of body art or do you prefer the body be left unmarred by physical decoration? Do you find yourself guarding against or drawn to certain people in regard to their tattoos? What is your perspective on body mapping?


evf said...


Thank you so much for inviting me to The Bird Sisters blog. I've really enjoyed the articles I've read here and feel honored to be included. You're a gem!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Thank you for the wonderful post, Victoria!

buckeyemike said...

Very interesting post Victoria. I think that this subject will yield as many answers as there are opinions. The fact is that a person's decision on whether or not to get a tattoo is a very personal topic. To many it's a form of self or even artistic expression, to some it's an act of rebellion, to others it's a way of permanently registering an event/memory, etc. People of many religious faiths such as Jews, Muslims and some Christians are morally against them. The idea of a "map" is indeed an interesting one, but personally I've never had a strong desire to permanently mark an event, milestone, feeling, etc., on my body. In my mind, there is something very finite in that decision...once you made it and left your mark, you have forever eliminated an opportunity for something else to take that space. I guess that's really it for me....the fact that a body is just a limited canvass. Once you're done with it, there is nothing else. I much rather like the idea of endless possibilities represented by a blank canvass and perhaps that is why I never got a tattoo. As far perceptions, there are clearly social stigmas associates with some tattoos. Tramp stamps, certain gang / prison tattoos clearly carry a very negative social connotation. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the tattoos of the Aboriginal peoples of various continents which are rich in culture and tradition. Many of my friends express themselves through body art. Some of these tattoos I find incredible and creative while others are just simply tacky and unoriginal. Thus, a tattoo by itself never makes me feel guarded or drawn to a person. I do feel however, that their choice in a tattoo, the design and placement presents a great amount of information into their character, history and a set of values which will naturally be at least subconsciously factored into our relationship. Thank you for an interesting read.

Marylou said...

I got a small tattoo on my shoulder on my 45th birthday. It seemed the perfect age to do it. I love it, because it's something I never thought I'd do.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I got a small tattoo when I was eighteen -- like a dumby because my best friend was getting one. I look at it, when I do, as a part of my younger self, the fly-by-my-seat self, which isn't an entirely bad thing especially now that I find myself very routine oriented and a bit less explorative. So sometimes it's a nice reminder that being spontaneous is also really important.

Anna said...

I would love to get something to commemorate my children, as they are the ones in my life to bring me my highest highs and lowest lows. One might argue that their mark on my body has been made (especially since both ended in c-sections), but I'd like something more decorative. Someday. Gotta plan that out first.

Siobhan Fallon said...

Wow, love the blog. If your tatoos are as lovely and interesting as your writing style, your skin must be a sight to behold.
Well done, Victoria.

p.s. I have a small arm band, of green ivy. One of those "I broke up with my boyfriend and need to mark this moment in a new way" twenty-something reaction. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I shake my head at it, like so many things in life!

evf said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I love hearing such individual stories and perceptions.

I wonder, Buckeyemike, if you see any of the marks on your body as significant reminders of a moment, decision or action?

The reason I was so drawn to the coffee shop man's idea of "Body mapping" is because he pointed out to me that tattoos are not the end all/be all, but that whether we like it or not, our bodies, our skin, our scars show ourselves even when we are not talking.

2girlsonabench said...

We've both thought about getting inked, then put it off, then say we're going to do it, then put it off, maybe when we turn 40? :)

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Thank you all for supporting Victoria the Great! :)

Doreen McGettigan said...

Great post Victoria. When my brother was killed my entire family got the same tattoo. everyone except me. I had a jeweler make the design in silver. My five kids and 4 son-in-laws have them for my brother and for each of my grandchildren. I'm not opposed and I just may get one one day. I think my answer for not having one is like my life. I fear anything permanent. It is a trick my mind plays on me because of too much loss.
Great thought provoking post.
Rebecca you should hop over to my blog on a Friday and do some of the Friday follows. They really boosted my following and they are all potential book buyers.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I will hop over, Doreen! :)

rose deniz said...

I have four tattoos, all done between the age of 18 and 21, all on my back. I forget they are there unless I see my reflection in the mirror, or like you say, Victoria, my children trace them with their fingers, ask what is this and what is that? I don't regret mine. I don't know that I'd do it again, but if someone were to say to me, Rose, you could have birds and clouds and a whole world of color to decorate your body, would I be able to say no?

I love what you call "body mapping" - and Anna made a good point about the various other markings that get left on the body from childbirth or accidents or just being alive and bumping into things. It reminds me of someone who wrote about all the scars, bumps, freckles being a map of her life - I can't remember the author, but it always stuck with me.

Thanks for this great piece, Victoria!

Manzanita said...

I'm you new follower.
I just happened upon your blog. Very interesting.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Hi Manzanita! Thank you so much for following. Welcome, and let me know if you have any questions along the way :)

buckeyemike said...

"I wonder, Buckeyemike, if you see any of the marks on your body as significant reminders of a moment, decision or action?


Apologies for a late reply. As a matter of fact yes, I do have some scars (burns, cuts, etc) that do offer a constant reminder of past events. While few are indeed worthy of recollection of great adventure, some I would love to be able to permanently erase from my memory. Nonetheless, they are there, they make me who I am and do tell a story. However, it is not always the story I would have chosen to write. What makes scars different to tattoos, they happen mostly outside of your control (self-mutilation crowd excluded of-course). With tattoos, more often than not you choose/create the design and to a certain degree (no matter how small or how conscious) decide what story you want it to "tell" either to yourself or others.

"The reason I was so drawn to the coffee shop man's idea of "Body mapping" is because he pointed out to me that tattoos are not the end all/be all, but that whether we like it or not, our bodies, our skin, our scars show ourselves even when we are not talking. "

I definitely agree with him. We all tell a visual story and "body mapping" is a fascinating perspective to consider. I'd like to think that someday I'll come across an event which will spark enough desire to mark it with a tat....although if the Mrs. doesn't'll be a different story. :) Thank you once again for sharing.

evf said...

I am so delighted by all these comments I'm going to attempt to answer them quickly.

@buckeyemike That is a good point--we choose tattoos vs. scars and marks and we are thus choosing what message is sent. I'll also mention tattoos over scars. :)

@Marylou, I love the 45 year old birthday tattoo! I know a woman who always told me she was going to dye her hair blue when she turned 50. I always wish she had.

@Rebecca, I have to know what this tattoo is! *evil grin*

@Anna, I agree with you completely, my next tattoo will definitely be related to my kids "highest highs and lowest lows" Well put.

@Siobhan, Thank you for your kind words! Ah, a breakup tattoo--I have one of those, see that picture of my neck? A mark to symbolize the end and the beginning. I can see how an arm band would be similar to a Celtic knot in that respect.

@2girlsonabench How about 45? It worked for Marylou. ;)

@Doreen, Wow, nearly an entire family getting the same tattoo to commemorate a death. I know your story is heavy and powerful with still so many unanswered questions. How wonderful that you found another way to physically hold and share his memory with the silverwork.

@Rose, I wonder if the story you mention is what gave my "coffee shop man" the idea? If you remember her name I'd love to read.

Thanks again everyone for your wonderful comments. What a great discussion!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Thank you, Victoria!

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."