I have an overwhelming urge to tattoo myself, basically at all times.

I have exactly zero tattoos.

I have threatened to get any number of tattoos over the years, a fact of which no one is quite so acutely aware as my dear friend Brad, who has drawn for me–at my request and even once combined with cash as a wedding gift–no fewer than four different tattoos.

Each time I ask for a tattoo, he happily agrees.  We talk about what I want, he draws it, it looks awesome, we go sit by the river to drink coffee, and I never actually get the tattoo.

My friend Brad and me shortly before I ask him for the fourth time to draw me a tattoo I’ll never get.


Brad is a Virgo.  My polar opposite, allegedly, astrologically.  He is covered in tattoos.  He is the singer in a very heavy metal band and likely among the kindest, gentlest people walking planet earth.

I will probably get yelled at for saying that.  Being found out for a sweetheart seems like it could be bad for one’s metal cred.


Almost anyone I really love or respect outside of my family has at least one tattoo.  This puts a great deal of strain on my occasional abstract intellectual theory that despite what the tattooed may say–as with plastic surgery and any other body modification–tattoos are representative of some deep personal or existential insecurity that is not finding its expression elsewhere.

Or that they are minimally individualized advertisements for a personality, intellect, emotionality, or opinion that is not much deeper than the tattoo itself, if it is related to the individual’s “true” self at all.

(Or maybe it shouldn’t strain my theory.  It could just mean that I have a special place in my heart and high regard for somewhat damaged or otherwise slightly off individuals, a badge that most of these people would wear proudly.)


Beauty lies within the heart, but just in case, I paid some guy $100 to write this on the outside of my shoulder.


Before the tattooed readers of TNB jump down my throat, please understand that this is strictly an intellectualization.  I’m not sure I believe it.  It’s a theory from which (I think) my own personal feelings and opinions are pretty well divorced.  It may be right or wrong regardless of what I think of it.


And the question of course, ultimately, is so what if it is all those things?  My ears are pierced.  I put makeup on my face every day.  I didn’t pop out of my mother’s womb in a pair of round-toed  heels.  I do these things to my body because I like how they look.  I like to have earrings and rosy cheeks.  I want to make my feet look small and my legs look long.

Sue me.  Sue us all.  We are all vain and petty and insecure.


But tattooed people often say that their tattoos are markers or reminders of where they’ve been that help to ground them in who they are.

Who they are.  Full stop.


Not who they were that one day or month or that juncture in their lives.  A commitment.  I AM this person with these tattoos and experiences.


I fear the tattoos I don’t yet have for the same reasons I am filled with trepidation about writing from a place of emotion.  The trepidation stems from having come across old writings and having been downright ashamed.

The shame that I was ever “that” way, whatever that way was.  The knowledge of how the various situations I wrote about turned out or what they actually were compared to how I thought they would turn out or what I thought they were.  Looking at them and seeing just how wrong I was.  I hate that.  Embarrassed for myself in front of no one but myself.

The lack of temperance, the sentimentality and melodrama, the delusions, the whatever-tends-to-manifest when writers let rip a heart fart.

The terrible sin of trying to write broadly in a singular state of mind. The paper lain to waste in a wash of limbic diarrhea.

Of having sincerely believed the apparently ridiculous.


But.  Above all…

Above ALL:


The intellectual, emotional, and philosophical fumble of mistaking the way it is now for The Way It Is.


Temporal provincialism.


And unlike a piece of writing that one can burn or cast off or otherwise make to go away from one’s sight forever, tattoos are there forever.  It seems it would be like being locked in a prison cell with every  thing you’ve ever thought, for a year, was awesome or significant.

MC Hammer.   Jeggings.


There is just nothing to be done.


Not really.  Not for less than thousands of dollars.


You have to look, every day, at those other yous who got those tattoos and continually concoct new narratives you can accept about what they were thinking when they had Papa Smurf tattooed below their panty lines, bacon tattooed on their asses, “Winona Forever” scrawled across their biceps.

Some will say that they got the tattoos to commemorate events with the intention of never, ever allowing themselves to forget a moment or a feeling.

I’m not sure I’d want to ever guarantee I couldn’t forget something.


To really live peaceably with tattoos, you have to be a person who believes (or wants to believe?) in a certain unity of identity.  That those past yous are not, in fact, other people but rather necessary steps in a progressive, coherent narrative of self that moves forward linearly through time.

I don’t think I have that kind of conviction.


And it’s tough to slip into a new self when your old self’s uniform is tattooed on.


For this reason, virtually any tattoo I’d get would probably be a terrible mistake.  But here are a few of the more glaring mistakes in that vein that I have considered making, including one I may still make, but probably not, but maybe, but not if I were smart or knew myself at all.


1. Yin and Yang

It’s an idea of which I’m very fond, but I wanted this tattoo before I understood what duality really was, what it meant for balance and existence itself, what it meant for countless religions and spiritualities in the world, both contemporary and ancient, how much everything I seem to do or think depends on it.

I was not aware of how the concept is responsible in large part for my non-committal nature and as such would make a perfect tattoo for me, if tattoos weren’t so committal, making it, in fact, an awful or at least ironic-to-the-point-of-hypocrisy tattoo.

I wanted it because it was 1992, I was 14, and it was dangling off of every cheap necklace in Claire’s Boutique.

The bottom line is that this thing is Played. The fuck. OUT.


2.  Any variation upon symbols for my astrological sign and/or ruling planet(s).



Or the pictogram.  On my feet.  Someone (or a bazillion people) already beat me to this bright idea, though.



A LOT of people have their astrological symbols on their bodies.  Such tattoos have come to make me uneasy.  They tell rather than show.  Or maybe it’s that they’re bossy, demanding to others that the wearer be thought of in a very specific way.  Or maybe they betray the wearer’s own insecurities about who s/he actually is.  Insecurities severe enough that s/he would want to demand to be thought of in an astrologically prefabricated way.

I dodged a major bullet on this one, for exactly these reasons. Pisces is not the strongest astrological influence in my chart.  Even if I were willing to define myself in such simple terms, I would have picked the wrong ones.

Pluto, the right one.


3.  Wings

I’ll admit, this still looks pretty badass to me.

This idea came to me during a goth phase, at a time when there weren’t so many people already with this tattoo.

But, like any good idea, it was bound to pop up and spread, so eventually it, too, became a cliche.  And oddly enough, I can’t remember why I wanted it.  I’m not sure it actually meant anything to me beyond being a cool idea and one that I thought was mine.

Probably best not to go around getting tattoos that don’t mean anything to you.  And in the case of this particular tattoo, it’s a bold proclamation that you intend to remain thin and wasp-waisted forever. If I (or the person above) were ever to gain large amounts of weight, this tattoo would become a terrible, sad piece of irony (something something about physics and air speed velocity or “Maybe those should be Buffalo wings! Har har har!”)–never mind that they would likely become grotesquely misshapen.

But nothing–I mean nothing–is as concerning as getting wings on your back that are way too fucking small.

Folks, when it comes having your Icarus wings tattooed on, go big or go home.  Ain’t nobody flying anywhere on wings that small unless his name is Ken and he’s ascending to heaven from the scene of a horrific Barbie car accident.


4.  The tramp stamp

There’s really only so much to say about why this would have been a terrible mistake.  At the time I first thought I might like one of these tattoos, I was a bartender and a barfly and therefore perfectly qualified to wear one, however, they weren’t called tramp stamps yet.  They were still kind of different and cool. Mostly worn by people who didn’t fake tan or shop at the mall.

This is the second pitfall of tattoos.  Even if you don’t change–no matter how seamless your narrative of self–opinions and culture and the people around you change.  One day you’re at the fore of 90s alternative and body modification culture, next thing you know, you’re just another 30-something ex-hipster with a tramp stamp and a nipple piercing and no tattoo to tell the world that you had both before they were ridiculous.

Tribal-type tramp stamps are what I was always having Brad draw for me.  I think the last couple of times I asked him to draw me one of these, tramp stamps were acquiring their more dubious reputation.  I asked him to draw me something that could just as  easily go up at the top of my shoulders.

I did not have Brad draw me anything like this.


5. Thoth

In Ancient Egypt, Thoth was the Ibis-headed God of writing and wisdom, one of the oldest deities in ancient Nile culture.  In pre-literate Egypt, he was likely a much more central figure, perhaps even the creator God himself. Later, he retained a prominent role as the scribe, the creator of writing, the inventor of science and math, and the voice of the Sun in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon.

Think Alan Rickman’s Metatron in Dogma, but with a PhD in theoretical mathematics, the philosophical power of Socrates, and T.S. Eliot’s broad command of languages and ideas. Some kind of primordial mega-professor.

Here we see Thoth with the sun disk on his head, possibly receiving solar wisdom, presumably taking notes.


I was even going to get him tattooed on my left shoulder blade.  Because I’m left-handed.  Because that’s the hand I write with.  Then it would be like he was shooting all his super-ancient Ibis-headed wisdom down my left arm and into every word I penned.

The problem with having a big tattoo of Thoth on your shoulder so he can shoot God’s divine wisdom through you into the internet and poetry rags of the world is that it’s hokey and totally self-aggrandizing and potentially belongs more at the Stargate booth at ComicCon than in the world of actual tattooed people.

It also reeks of affected writerly bullshit.


6. Set

It being the case that I think having Thoth on my left shoulder would be self-aggrandizing, it’s curious that I don’t even think twice about putting another Egyptian God there.

This time it’s Set, though.

The Egyptian God of the desert–of chaos and darkness and all things hostile to life.  The nasty brother who killed Osiris, chopped him into tiny bits and flung him to the corners of the earth.

He is the God tasked with the protection of the sun during its overnight journey through the underworld.

Apep wants to swallow Ra and end the world!  Thank goodness Set is there to stab him in the maw. Thanks, Set.


Unlike virtually all other Gods in the Egyptian pantheon, Set’s animal representation is not clearly one type of animal or another.  It is ambiguous.  It begins to look like whatever someone suggests to you that it is.  An anteater.  A jackal.  A donkey.  A greyhound.  It is very much a creature that looks like it could live on earth, but it’s no particular earthly creature–past or present–that anyone seems to recognize.

Among most scholars, it is simply the “Set Animal.”

To the people of Ancient Egypt, Set has served equally as well (at different times) as both a Satan-type figure and as the primary God, above Horus and Osiris and all others.  His function and identity changed constantly.  Dramatically.

To say Set is evil is wrong.  To say he is good is wrong.  To say he is necessary is right.

The message, philosophically, is profoundly appealing to me.

Dichotomies erase themselves to become dualities.  It is never some thing OR another.  It is always some thing AND another.

Existence is comprised of various arrangements of opposites and and antagonisms.  Without all things contrary to life, life ceases to be.  Without Set, the sun everyone worships would not even manage to rise in the sky.

Seth offers no hope and no condemnations.  He is elemental and amoral–a force of nature that exists outside of time.



Like so:

and related to

kind of, via an underworld river like

and potentially even more powerful and cool than

but having nothing much to do with


which is probably just as well, all things considered.




Set might be the one.



I think.




I bet Brad could draw a badass Set.

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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

69 responses to “Tattoos and Other Sources of Existential Terror”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    I’ve got nine tattoos to date, with a couple more to come, in all likelihood. I love ’em all, but some more than others.

    I’ve always thought it would be fun to capture the ink of TNB in some sort of pictorial. Maybe like the kind they do with magazine covers, where the arrange hundreds of magazine covers so as to depict the face of someone famous. Maybe we could do Brad Listi’s face made up of everyone’s artwork.

    Love the pics you found- especially the Reagan tramp stamp.

    And I agree that too-small angel wings look half-baked and impractical. Unlike, of course, the Les Paul I have on my back that has purple and green shooting flames out of it, complete with skulls coming out of the smoke. There’s nothing impractical about that.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, yeah, but I mean…

      You don’t have the Les Paul tattooed in such a spot and in such a way as to give the impression you could pick it up and play it at any moment.

      The whole deal with putting a pair of wings on one’s back like that is to give the impression that one, in fact, has wings.

      I mean, if not, no need to put them on your back. You could put them on your shoulder or ass or wherever.

      So if you’re going to get a tattoo whose very existence is intended to give the impression of usability, why would you get all stumpy-ass wings insufficient to carry a number of species of actual birds, let alone a human?

      I don’t know. A pet peeve, I guess. Just nonsensical. A token gesture. Its says, “I don’t really believe I can fly, and you shouldn’t either, but at least it’s something to look at when I wear a tank top.”


      “I only had $300.”

    • Gloria says:

      I think we should make Listi’s face out of nothing but tramp stamps.

      Although I do have some pretty great ink on me, alas I have nary a tramp stamp. So I’d have to be excluded. But it would still be worth it.

  2. I’m glad to hear someone finally airing these same issues I’ve always had with tattoos. I have none whatsoever and will never, barring perhaps a stint in prison. But I’m always hesitant to voice my objections because of what an oddball minority opinion my anti-tattoo stance is and who I’m likely to offend. It’s the prime example of why I’m a square and also a grumpy, old man.

    You sum it up for me with this: “I’m not sure I’d want to ever guarantee I couldn’t forget something.”
    Tattoos look really cool on some people, but for me they spoil some sense I have of still searching and becoming, which can be just as cliché as a person who stamps him or herself with a given identity.

    However, Set, as the God who protects the Sun during its overnight journey and his representation of duality, is badass. I might have to get it in a picture frame, or on a T-shirt. Maybe it’ll show up in a Bazooka Joe gum wrapper stick-on for me one day.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Good depictions of Set are somewhat difficult to track down on the internet.

      I’ve noticed this when I’ve tried, half-assedly, to find a rendering I might maybe have a tattoo artist replicate.

      You get a lot of seriously comicon-type stuff.


      Typically shown as an overmuscled human with a snarling beast face.

      Like, fan art from fans of role-playing games or something. I don’t know where they come from. They make me cringe.

  3. SAA says:

    I’m really only ashamed of one tattoo out of three. I wouldn’t get it covered up or removed because I feel like now I just have to live with it, like any other mistake. It’s a tramp stamp. There, I said it.

    • Gloria says:

      What’s it of?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, okay, but location alone doesn’t a tramp stamp make.

      I’m reluctant to give a mushroom a tramp stamp designation.

      I’m not even sure the Reagan tat is a proper tramp stamp, but I just knew how TNB would appreciate it anyway, so I had to include it.

      • Amber says:

        I agree that location is not the defining factor. I have my maiden name tattooed on my lower back but I will go straight to the fisticuffs with anyone who deems it a tramp stamp.

        It’s gangsta, damn it. Straight up.

      • SAA says:

        Not to be pedantic, but I’ve always thought that placement was key. Like there is a tramp stamp zone, which lies on the small of of one’s back, dead center. Perhaps it’s regional, like the soda vs. pop distinction, I dunna.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          There IS a tramp stamp zone, and a tattoo outside of that zone is indeed not a tramp stamp, but location in that zone is not both a necessary AND sufficient condition for designation as a tramp stamp.

  4. Mary Richert says:

    I love the idea of the Thoth tattoo, frankly, but then there’s me. “Affected writerly bullshit” is something I’ve been guilty of for centuries. No shame.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I haven’t abandoned it entirely.

      I sometimes toy with the idea of getting Thoth on my right shoulder, Set on my left. Facing each other. With a flipped image, Thoth would be depicted writing with his left hand. And it would be this whole angel and devil thing.

      Though this, too, strikes me as hokey the second I type it.

      And because of the relatively large size I’m considering, it would expensive, too.

      I toy with the idea of doing lots of things.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    I love this.

  6. Gloria says:

    I’m totally off. And I’m totally tattooed, but I want more. My tattoo history is familial though. A right of passage. My mom has a full back tattoo, as does my favorite aunt. My sister is covered. I think all of my uncles have them. Shit, I think all of my aunts do, too. I come from a biker family – like Easy Rider types. I remember asking for a Mickey Mouse tattoo when I was four, while some dude was tatooing my mom’s shoulder, and I sat down, he put the gun on me and I was beside myself with disappointment when I realized he didn’t have any ink in it.

    I once had a tattoo of Speedy Gonzales on my left scapula, which I got when I was 15. It was done with a stereo motor and a guitar string. It started to fade. I had it gone over a year or so later with another stereo motor and a guitar string. This time, though, the dude who did it thought it would be hilarious to add a cock to Speedy, which he did. It took me two years to come up with the money to cover it up. Fucker.

    Point is: well, there’s two. 1) removal isn’t always the only option and 2) sometimes tattoos really do remind you of where you’ve been and how far you’ve come. Or, as you put it, “those past yous are not, in fact, other people but rather necessary steps in a progressive, coherent narrative of self that moves forward linearly through time.” 🙂

    That Reagan tattoo. I mean…wow. You have to really commit to a certain ideology to go for that, I’d say. Just…holy shit.

    My next tattoo: a half sleeve of a phoenix (female-form) on my right upper arm.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      For a long time I wanted a phoenix, I don’t think so anymore. I want a peacock to complete the sleeve with my cherry blossoms.

      But before I get that, I have 2 others to get first.

      all while I’m broke…yay.

      • Michelle says:

        See, you guys just reminded me now. My #1 reason for no tattoos — the pain! Oy, the pain!! I could not handle it. Nope. Never. I had three little, pin-sized dots done for radiation and that confirmed it for me.

        I always admire those who can take the pain.

        Hello, my name is Michelle and I am a WUSS.

        • Gloria says:

          Michelle! Miiiicchhhheeelllllleeeeee!!!

          Hi, Michelle. 🙂

        • New Orleans Lady says:

          Yes, they hurt. Anyone who says they don’t is full of shit. Most of the time, I’m so excited that my adrenaline clouds the pain enough for me to get through it. My blue bird was the worst, though. OUCH!

          Michelle, maybe you’re not wuss. Maybe you’re just…sane…

  7. Matt says:

    I’ve got three tattoos. And you know what? Unless someone actually points them out, half the time I forget that they’re even there. To me they’ve become just another part of my body, like a birthmark or the color of my hair.

    They’re indicative of certain moments in my life, sure, and hold certain memories, but ultimately I got them for the same reason I do anything else that gives me pleasure: because I wanted to.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, of course it’s a personal choice. A matter of preference.

      And people are welcome to do with their bodies as they wish.

      As person, as I said, with pierced ears and one who long had a pierced bellybutton, I get the idea of being used to these types of alterations.

      Like a scar, like anything.

      The idea is more about what the implications are or would be for me, personally, and what that causes me to wonder about the implications for other people. If the implications for you are purely hedonistic, that’s great.

  8. New Orleans Lady says:

    I have one tattoo on my right shoulder that I want covered.
    Honestly, even though a lizard isn’t something I would choose to get tattooed NOW, I kind of like it. It was my first and just thinking about it now makes me smile. The only reason I want it covered is because the work is terrible. Stupid kid!

    Hey, at least it’s not a tramp stamp, huh, ladies? lol 😉

    • Gloria says:

      At least it’s not a jailhouse Speedy Gonzales with a penis! Huh? Huh?

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Jailhouse Speedy Gonzales with a penis is kind of one of those fails-that’s-a-win.

        • Tawni Freeland says:

          Jailhouse Speedy Gonzales would also be a fun name for Gloria’s first book. (Or for Brad’s heavy metal band.)

        • Gloria says:

          You guys are focused on the jailhouse part when, really, it was the penis part that I obsessed over focused on the most until I could have it covered up (with what is actually a lovely tattoo that I’m very happy with.)

  9. “My body is a journal in a way. It’s like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist.” – Johnny Depp

    I quite like that quote, and it embodies what I think is a healthy attitude to tattoos. The main argument people seem to give against tattoos (apart from Truman Capote, who said, “There’s something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos. I know from experience there’s something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed.” – on account of the fact that he believed 80% of murders had tats) is that you come to regret them. But if you view them as a part of your past, as a note of something that happened to you, it seems to counter this point of view.

    Well, that’s fine and dandy unless you’re getting a Reagan tramp stamp. Jeez…

    Actually, I’ve tried to scrub “tramp stamp” from my vocabulary as, on no less for four occasions, I’ve used it in the presence of people who I didn’t realise actually had tramp stamps… Oops.

    My family abhor tattoos, but didn’t really seem to mind when I came home with my left arm all inked. They just sorted of nodded and went, “Well, that’s nice,” unconvincingly.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, right. Johnny makes the connection between writing/journaling and tattooing too. And he seems to advocate some combination of the progressive narrative of self AND “never forget” schools of tattooing.

      The great irony being, of course, I’m all but 100% sure he’s glad as hell he didn’t use a knife to carve “Winona Forever” into his arm.

      Scarification would have been even harder to change to “Wino Forever” than the tattoo. So I call at least a little bullshit on this particular narrative of his.

      “…if you view them as a part of your past, as a note of something that happened to you…”

      Yeah. Like I said, I think a lot of people do.

      I think I just prefer a lot more fluidity in my notion of self than tattoos allow. And, as noted, “fluidity of self” may just be a fancy way of saying “commitment issues” or “identity issues,” which would explain why I’m also constantly considering and wanting a tattoo. Maybe, deep down, I want to believe in any given moment and who I am in that moment THAT much.

      Nevertheless, I balk at the thought similarly to the way in which I balk to hit “publish” on a TNB post, for example.

      That a TNB post can be taken back is probably the only reason I manage to ever hit publish at all. A contingency plan is absolutely crucial. Escape hatch. Tattoos don’t really have one.

      Rather than call myself unsure, though, I prefer to think of it as an intellectual talent for holding multiple, even conflicting, views of a given topic, whether politics or personal identity.

      • I like the fluidity of self notion, but mixed in with the tattoo as a journal idea. You can change, but you’ve got your past on your skin as a reminder.

        Or not. I suppose if you view tattoos that way, you’re just as well not having any.

        I also find myself “holding multiple, even conflicting views of a given topic”.

        And yeah, I feel the same way with the publish button, except that after years of blogging I’ve become accustomed to later erasing posts that embarrass me. I suppose time will tell if that’s true of tattoos, but I write hundreds of blog posts a year and only have two tattoos.

        Also, I frequently use comment boards in a self-deprecating manner… I might start graffiti-ing my arm will comments about my tattoos.

  10. Tawni Freeland says:

    Awwww… you dissed my two astrological tattoos, but then you made it all better by putting up a picture of my exact Pluto symbol tattoo with the words, “Pluto, the right one” underneath. All is forgiven. I got the right one. Haha. Did you know I have that tattoo? Have I already told you about this… about my extra reason to be pissed off when they demoted the planet?

    Oddly enough, I still adore both tattoos because they’re Scorpio-related and I epitomize the sign. I even have a stellium (five planets in the same sign) in Scorpio, leading TNB’s resident astrologist Greg Olear to say to me: “Wow, your chart is whack.” Yay, me. I do regret the placement of one of them, however (on my lower left leg). That would be some advice from me to anyone considering a tattoo. In addition to thinking long and hard about what you get (something meaningful/inspirational to you, and not chosen off the wall because it’s… fill in the adjective), really consider the placement on your body.

    Other tattoo-related advice: Don’t be drunk on cheap beer and 23 years old and having what you think is a deep conversation with a friend about Zen/Enso circles and how a circle would be a perfect tattoo, because that would, like, just say everything in one symbol, man, just sum it all up perfectly, and then on an intoxicated whim jump up and drive to the tattoo shack on the outskirts of town to pay an obese tattoo artist ironically named ‘Tiny’ to tattoo these matching symbols on you and your friend because you will be getting that hippie shit covered up a few years later after you and your friend have a falling out and never speak again, leaving you with a constant reminder of a painful ending.


    Eeeew. Feet.

    I hate the dinky little wings. Maybe she was picturing herself as one of those fat little Valentine’s Day cherubs with the comically small wings?

    I like your Egyptian God ideas. Both of them. And if you like Thoth, who cares if someone else thinks it’s self-aggrandizing. You know how you mean it. And if you mean it in a self-aggrandizing way, then own it, girlfriend. Fuck ’em. (:

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Hey. As feet go, those feet aren’t bad. They’re doing pretty well, I mean, for feet.

      They’re neatly, attractively decorated, apparently clean, free from any visible hair or fungus. I think she even has some kind of glitter embellishment on the big toe nails. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. She must live somewhere warm. I assume it’s a she.

      Yeah. The astrological tattoo thing is a touchy subject. It is important to keep in mind, as I’m dissing it, I’m meaning mostly to diss myself and the notion of such a tattoo as it pertains to me, in high school, cruising head shops for Nag Champa and roach clips to spend my $150 arcade paycheck on.

      Teenage me was a cliche, and furthermore, these just aren’t tattoos I should have.

      Though I admit, sometimes I see people with a Sagittarius tattoo and think to myself, “It’s nice to know I hate you in advance. Now I can just avoid you instead of talking to you for 20 minutes before I realize that everything you say makes me want to kill myself just to get away.”

      (Notable exception to the Sagittarius rule: Richard Cox. I love you, Buddy. Don’t be mad. I know how seriously you take astrology. I know to hear me say that about your kin must be as a knife in your deep, deep soul.)

      And it’s not that other people would find Thoth self-aggrandizing. It’s that I do. In addition to liking the idea. I have a LOT of these disagreements with myself.

      It’s a problem.

      Though it’s way easier to find good representations of him than it is to find good representations of Set.

    • Gloria says:

      I see the dinky little wings and I think of the big fat caterpillar in A Bugs Life – only I’m pretty sure that the girl in the picture isn’t going to metamorphose into a butterfly at the end of this movie…

  11. I never got around to getting inked, pretty much because I couldn’t come up with a design, which is the exact reason I have also not painted my office or redone my kitchen. Or ever put my car through a car wash. Then time passed and I became a late thirties-something ex-slacker who forgot to get inked.

    I do however have a collection of sweet scars, each accidentally commemorating the past 3 decades – teens (car accident), twenties (dogbite), thirties (surfing accident). I should probably stay home.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      There’s another very likely explanation for this kind of behavior, and that’s perfectionism.

      Are you a perfectionist?

      Writers are given to perfectionism and perfectionists are often reluctant to make decisions which can, counter-intuitively, make them procrastinators. And leave them slovenly or disorganized. And they may ride around in filthy, unwashed cars filled with renderings of tattoos-never-to-be.

      • I’m not a perfectionist, at least not in my own work (according to various internet critics). I think it’s more likely that I can’t waste time making aesthetic decisions that have nothing to do with writing. If I spend an hour thinking about what color to paint my office that’s an hour I could have spent decorating a fictional space.

        The dirty car is because I’m deep down a dirty hippie.

  12. Amber says:

    Not long before my uncle died, he told me that my grandmother’s parents came here from Ireland in the late 1800s/ early 1900. On St. Patrick’s day the year after he passed away, I had two shamrocks tattooed on my chest (just above my oh-so-perky bosom) with “Nina” written underneath the left one. They hurt like hell and I love them.

    I also have the aforementioned maiden name, which made my dad happy as all get out, and English ivy wrapping around my left arm. My good friend drew that one and supervised the work while it was being done. He was seriously invested in the quality on that one, which is good because I’m pretty sure my tattoo artist was drunk. Scratch that: the tattoo artist was definitely drunk. Yep.

    If I had the funds I would be covered like Lydia the Tattooed Lady, y’all…

    • Michelle says:

      Just have to say, your tats sound cool, especially the shamrocks (Irish heritage here, too!) and ivy. I know you rock ’em, girl.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Wait. “Nina” is underneath the left shamrock, or underneath the left breast? It doesn’t make much of a difference, really, except that I like the idea of a boobie easter egg.

      I do like the idea of tattooing one’s maiden name.

      It was hard for me to let go of mine. I encourage my close friends to continue to use it as my nickname.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Aw hell yeah!

  13. Michelle says:

    Hiya Beck! Really enjoyed reading this. Beautifully succinct, interesting, and, especially, funny! Very similar to my own thought process on “to tat or not to tat”.

    The shame thing… well that had to have been written from a place of emotion, right? I mean, I felt it.
    And I wonder if that has a connection to why your most-loved/respected have tattoos?

    The permanence thwarts me, too, and the thought of how sad I imagine it would be to maybe have some once-beautiful work of art on my body distorted by sags and wrinkles and moles and whatnot. (Yeah, sue me too.) I also could never settle upon the perfect tattoo that would let me commit. I must say though, I really like your ideas, but agree they are past their time. Except for Set. Like, seriously, that is kind of kick-ass.

    Oh, and the tiny wings are ludicrous, and Brad sounds like a really good friend and good people.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      He is good people. I can genuinely say that I feel lucky to know him. He doesn’t have a cruel or disingenuous bone in his body.

      I guess I don’t feel like the part about loathing my past writing came from a place of emotion.

      I was trying to be frank about the feelings it causes, but not actually feeling them at the time. If that makes sense.

      That’s a critical difference for me in writing.

      I don’t know about the connection to people with tattoos. I think–or it seems to me–that the tattooed people I know are significantly less private and/or guarded than I am, which is probably part of the attraction. I tend to be fairly affected–involuntarily taking up the moods of people around me–so I’m most relaxed with people who are relaxed, guarded with people who are guarded. If people are open and at ease, I have an easier time being that way, which tends to make for better friendships.

      However, I don’t know that tattoos are necessarily a reliable indicator of interpersonal openness. There are a lot of individuals with tattoos who don’t seem like very nice or genuine people.

  14. Jason says:

    I think if I were to give any bit of advice to someone who has never been tattooed, and who has trouble with the concept of commitment of self that it requires – to the degree of being uncertain that they would want to retain a sense of permanence from a “former self” as a reminder that all your former selves are indeed a constant ladder climbing into the eternity of “you”, it would be this…

    Get a single dot, somewhere on your body, that only you (and the tattoo artist) know the location of. The mark wouldn’t be for public display, and the design itself wouldn’t have any huge deep significance that you may be afraid of becoming irrelevant. Instead, the very act of it being there would be its whole significance. The fact that you chose to take deliberate action and mark yourself, permanently and forever, would in itself be a significant grounding aid for your own psyche. You could use it to help you in moments of uncertainty, knowing that no matter how uncertain you might be at the time, you DO have the mental fortitude to make permanent, lasting decisions that you can stand by. The fact that only you even know that you have this mark means that the tattoo is for you, and nobody else, and ultimately I think that’s what’s really important.

    That said, I think your article is wonderful and articulate. It deals with many themes and thoughts that I myself have pondered over the years, and I commend you for leaving them here for us to read. I have two tattoos, and I want more… many, many more… but those will come in time, and for many different reasons which will all be quite relevant when I get them. Later in life, they may not be quite as relevant, – as I am a living, constantly changing being – but they will all have contributed to my endless weaving tapestry of self, of which I can be quite proud. 🙂

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  16. I think this is a great article – and I loved the comments that went along with it. I’ll follow the pack and start off by saying that I have 3 tattoos…one of them, is my husband’s name “Jesse.” I know. I know. But it was only $25 and I said “Fuck it.” If we ever get divorced, I’m not getting rid of it. The next fucker will just have to deal with it. Don’t judge me!
    Also, I have to say that I think it’s really unfortunate that lower-back tattoos have acquired the label of “tramp stamp.” So, I say this without myself having (or wanting) a said “tramp stamp,” but you gotta admit that it’s a great place for a woman to get tattooed…unless said woman lives to be like 70. Then it’s just ick. But I like the placement. I want a huge tattoo on my back – like, massive. I just haven’t really figured out what I want it to be yet. And I want more tattoos, period.
    And, while I like that last comment, the freckle tattoo idea has also become cliche. When getting a tattoo you just have to realize that almost anything you choose to get, scratch that, ANYTHING you choose to get, has probably been thought of by numerous other people. And you just have to say “Fuck it” and enjoy the experience.

    • Nadine says:

      Tattoos have lost their cool rebel reputation which is unfortunate as I’d love to fake to the world that I am secretly a COOL REBEL! My friend and I dared each other to get belly rings ( a very long time ago) and my God did that cause a stir which was FUN. Hard to imagine now as piercings are soooooooo common ….. anyway, I removed it after a few months ‘cos the thrill was gone. I have ‘ummed and arred’ over getting a tattoo but I feel like I need a really deep reason for getting one, (not just because, like my peircing) .. and I don’t… I just WANT one. Love your last paragraph… maybe I should just say ‘Fuck it, I want one … I’m doing it’ and stop over-analysing it! 🙂

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  21. I think this is a great article – and I loved the comments that went along with it. I’ll follow the pack and start off by saying that I have 3 tattoos…one of them, is my husband’s name “Jesse.” I know. I know. But it was only $25 and I said “Fuck it.” If we ever get divorced, I’m not getting rid of it. The next fucker will just have to deal with it. Don’t judge me!

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