You Have a Tattoo?


I haven’t been totally caught by a random blog idea for a while. But today, scrolling down the WordPress Reader, up pops the daily post prompt – do you have a tattoo?

Well, I do! It’s a bit of a story because I’m of an age when a girl getting a tattoo would have been unheard of. Tattoos were things that only prisoners and sailors had. I had a step-grandfather who was a merchant marine – he had those inky-blue, old-school jobs of anchors and mermaids. My dad had a few tattoos. I’m not outing him as a jailbird, but I do think he got the tattoos when he was in an altered state of reality. He had an eagle on one bicep and this huge snake that ran along the inside of his forearm. He could flex his muscles and make it move around in a way that freaked us kids out.

I didn’t have any friends or peers that bragged of having a tattoo. Getting your ears pierced was a big deal when I was a teen. My kids grew up in a different world. My son has some awesome tattoos and my daughter got herself a cute lower-back flower. I was fascinated by the appeal since most everyone was on the same page when it came to the pain factor involved in getting a tattoo. Why would they want to put themselves through such an ordeal?

When I was forty-five, I spent a summer living on a university campus taking prerequisite courses in preparation for entry into a graduate program in counselling psychology. This was a culmination (and the beginning) of a dream I’d had for a long time – the highest of higher education and a new career path. The courses were exciting and demanding on the level of self-discovery. I was working closely with a higher-powered group of young women and we were all changed by our experience. They influenced me as much as I might have influenced them.

All these young women had tattoos. I had admired the art work on their skins and, near the end of that summer together, I spoke of wanting to mark the changes that had occurred in my life. One night, over nachos and drinks, the obvious solution was suggested – Fran should get a tattoo. Before I really thought it out too much (good thing!), I was downtown at a tattoo parlour speaking to a rather large, completely tattooed young man about what I wanted. I described a half moon and a few stars that would be placed somewhere near my ankle. (I chose that location because it was about as far as he could be away from me and still be working on my body – okay, okay – I was self-conscious about having a total stranger so close to me for well over the hour it would take to get a small tattoo.) He quickly free-handed a little sketch and passed it across the counter to me. I nodded just as quickly. He raised a pierced eyebrow – perhaps surprised I was so easily pleased – and said, “Okay then, let’s go.”

P1090680Stretched out in the chair, I experienced the pain to be real though bearable with some distraction. I fell back on a strategy of mine – the gathering of information. I delved into my tattoo artist’s life with great curiosity. How did he know he wanted to do this type of work? How did he train? How did he choose his own tattoos? What was the most challenging part of the work? Where did he see himself going with this work in the years ahead? On and on we went, through the outlining and the filling and onto the finished product. When I got up to leave, he told me that I talked more than any person he had ever had in his chair. I began to apologize but then he said, “You made me think. It was okay.” Good to be memorable for something, I suppose.

So – I got a tattoo and I’ve never regretted it. I understand the desire people have to mark their skin in various ways. I even got a glimpse of the attraction the pain could have. It’s like a badge of honour when all is said and done. I have enjoyed the surprise shown by some when they discover that I have a tattoo. I tell myself that I’ll be easily identified if I ever happen to drop dead with no identification in my pocket.

A mere glimpse of my tattoo is enough to bring back vivid memories of that summer in 2003 when I was on the brink of realizing so many dreams, when I worked with such a wonderful group of young women, when I experienced my world opening up in so many ways.


My Latest Flash Fiction for the Ramsgate Women’s Fiction Group

(A pretty pic to catch your eye – we writer’s our shameless in our ability to solicit attention – but don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Got my snippet of conversation for a flash fiction assignment from the Ramsgate Women’s Fiction Group – check out their blog

Anyway, here’s the result – fiction with a wee twist of autobiographical feeling – then again, what fiction isn’t like that?

“Yes, well she said she wasn’t drunk, but I don’t know.” Shit – why had she tacked on those last three words – I don’t know – in that tentative, weak tone? She sounded like she didn’t have a clue, like her client would have been better off telling her problems to the first passerby she saw on the street. Shit.

Monica clutched at the file in her hand and told herself to breathe. The weekly peer supervision sessions with one of her graduate school colleagues always rattled her composure. They were supposed to share case notes from their practicum counselling sessions and try to help each other identify blind spots, work on their edges – what a load of shit. It was the blind leading the blind – one-upmanship spurred on by mutual insecurity. The first person to show a hint of weakness would be brought down like a crippled zebra before a pack of slavering lions.

And who the hell did this guy think he was to be questioning her judgement in that snide tone and making her feel like some sort of beginner? The thought of him being a counsellor someday made her pity anyone who might end up as his client. What a joke this entire program was turning out to be. Why she had thought going back to school to get her Master’s degree was a good idea was a total mystery to her now. And at her age – it was laughable, really. She knew how to help people – she’d been doing it for years. But instead of being out in the world doing what she was good at, she was stuck in a corner of the graduate student lounge being grilled by an egotistical smart aleck who was young enough to be her son – peer my ass.

When she let herself dwell on what her graduate school experience had been so far she felt like vomiting. Insecure professors who were also younger than her, nitpicking over ridiculous crap – academics who hadn’t had an original thought in the last twenty years, people so busy cannibalizing any real work they had ever done and stealing their own students’ ideas for more publications and research grant money, they had no time or inclination to give a shit about teaching. Her fellow classmates had either come into the program thinking they already knew everything or they were so busy spewing back every word the prof said like it had just come down from God on high they couldn’t possibly open themselves up to really learn anything. The curriculum for the entire program made her question when the last time anyone designing this bullshit had been in the real world. What a colossal mistake it all was.

“Monica, can we drop the peer supervision roles for a minute? I really need to talk to someone.”

The tremble in his voice propelled her out of her spiral of negative thoughts as she sat up straighter and met his pleading eyes. “Sure, Jeff – what’s up?”

“I haven’t slept for a couple of days – I can’t keep up. Work is crazy right now and I need the job – I’ve got to pay for school. I don’t have that old silver spoon in my mouth like some people in this program. My girlfriend is on my back every minute about how much time I’m spending on campus and I’m behind in the readings for every course. Forget about that bloody theories paper for Mr. Dickhead – it’s not going to happen.”

Monica watched him drop his head into his hand and rake his long fingers through his hair. When he looked up his voice shook, “I admire you – you’re the one person in the whole frigging cohort who seems to care about anybody else or even slightly have her shit together. I watch you and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. I feel like such a bloody imposter every second – like it’s only a matter of time before they find out what a total incompetent I am and kick me out of the program. Sorry to dump all my crap out like this – I just feel like I’m drowning.”

Monica took a deep breath and reached across the space that separated them to put her hand on Jeff’s knee, “Let’s take things one at a time – OK? Maybe together we can figure out where you can get a little room to move in all of this.” She smiled warmly at him and she could feel her world pivot back to where it was supposed to be.