Far East mystics pierce their cheeks or tongues in ritualistic parades to show their strength of faith. They say it puts them closer in touch with God.
Indians used to use pain in their Sun Dance... piercing areas of their chest that were tethered to a high post and dancing in a trance like state until they broke free - ripping their flesh in the process.
Every year, thousands of people in Tibet get tattooed by a holy man - tip, tap, tapping the stick and needle by hand - to get a blessing embedded in their skin. Without fail, all of them say the blessing has saved them from stabbings or gun shots or whatever the hell else the crime element in Tibet can dish out.
I have no faith in God.
I've got more than a few drops of American Indian in me. Cherokee to be accurate. But other than the fact that I'm babyfaced and hairless, you'd never know it by looking at me because I'm usually paler than the average teenage attendant of HorrorFind weekend. So, I'll tip an eagle feather to the Lakota Indians, but no way in hell I'm ripping apart my pectorals to find my personal relationship to Wakan Tanka.
Now, the tattoos on the other hand...
I got my first ink laid to my skin when I was about 23. My wife got it for me for my birthday, although she really had no idea what she was kickstarting at the time. I remember going in and talking about what I wanted - a Japanese koi fish design. In Japanese culture, koi are symbols of luck in life and love. In fact, koi roughly translates to love and affection in Japanese. I recall the look in my wife's eyes when she stopped by during her lunch break to see how things were going. I'd just gotten the carbon transfer to my skin, and I saw how big her eyes were when she saw the size of the design I was getting for my first - first - tattoo.
Five hours later, I was done.
The experience was cathartic... cleansing. It was painful - the closer he got to my spine and the top of my shoulder, it forced me to an entirely new perspective on how to deal with pain. I realized that there's no way to run from pain. It's there. You can't hide from it or mask it or just hide in a happy place. The only way to really deal with it is to stop running and just face it head on. Embrace it. Wrap your arms around it and dive on in like a warm blanket.
The tattoo itself came out "ok" to me. The guy who inked me is now dead, although I don't know the reasons why. That in itself is a symbol of sorts to me. At the time, I was about two months into starting my own business. It was a crossroads of my life. So the experience of getting tattooed was beyond meaningful. I shed the bullshit of my previous jobs and set out on a new path. Five hours of pain was enough to wash out the pipes, so to speak.
So... I'd been itching to get another one ever since. And ever since one of my best friends, John Stapleton
and his lovely wife, Becky, paid us a visit and went to dinner, I'd been growing more and more serious.
John is a very successful ad whore. Well... maybe ad whore is a bit harsh. He's more like an ad escort. Think Heidi Fleiss. And when he was up, he mentioned how, at this point in our lives, we're fairly established career wise. We could get tattoo sleeves done, and who the hell could say anything to us about it? It's not like we're not good at what we do for a living. What, no one's going to hire us because we have a great portfolio but ink on our arms but? Thing is, as usual, John's right.
Did I mention that John doesn't have any tattoos?
A few weeks ago, I visited Kyle Blackledge at Wandering Canvas. The shop's clean. He has two attractive women tattooing with him. He's got a a skull and wings tattooed on his head. He's done artwork for guys like Brian Keene
and Geoff Cooper.
Kyle, in short, kicks more ass than a donkey.
I went in at noon and aside from three two-minute water breaks, stood up from the chair at 4:45 with a finished tattoo. Kyle is light handed for a tattooer, but it still felt like he was mining for diamonds on the top of my shoulder when he was doing the shading.
The outlines however... that was - and through no fault of Kyle's - transcendental. Getting outlines done on a piece this big feels like someone is dragging a heated scalpel over your skin and peeling flaps away piece by piece.
And once again, I had no choice but to embrace the pain... run headlong into it like I was seeing an old friend.
Cathartic? Oh yeah.
In Japanese myth, the Hannya is a demon with horns and sharp fangs. She was once a beautiful woman whose unrequited love transformed her into a creature overwhelmed with jealousy and rage.
Is my muse.
When I ignore her... don't pay her enough attention... she gets pissed and, I might add, rightfully so.
So... I decided to dedicate part of my flesh to her. As a reminder to me to never ignore her again. As a reminder to her of how important she is.
Because, to be perfectly honest, I don't think I'd be here if it wasn't for her.
My permanent muse: