Welcome to the arts issue. I’m an artist and can speak on that a little, but sometimes during my travels, when I come up on younger folks out there in the world who remind me of the tornado idealist I used to be as an up-and-coming artistic human being, I know by the looks on their faces that they see some older fella, going gray around the edges, who has clearly grown detached from the current state of hip.

Well, there may be some truth in that. I’m fully aware that I’ve aged out of shopping at Buckle.

I’m okay with that…really.

But one thing I still have a firm grasp on and can speak about with a sense of expertise is tattoos: an art form that is much less taboo these days than it was about a decade ago.

Tattoos can be stunning and masterful, but one hard rule of life that needs to be learned and mastered before going under the artist’s needle is the rule of patience—patience and a lot of thought. Those two things practiced in tandem can help to stop you from marring yourself up with skulls, or wizards, or pin-up girls you’ll need to explain to your daughters someday. Some rules are actually there for a reason, and as a habitual rule-breaker myself, I can tell you, in the case of tattoos and body art, most people under the age of 18 haven’t had enough proper life experience to make an informed permanent decision.

I had my first encounter with the tattoo needle at age 15 and it became devilishly addictive. It also led to a heaping amount of regret and a lot of pale blue ugliness I can’t wash off with an industrial size bar of Lava soap. Everyone else I know who ran out and got a tattoo without a lick of thought as to what they were about to do to themselves lives with a sadness that keeps their shirts on well into the summer. Tattoos are not meant to be a commemoration of that great cry-a-thon you ladies had during your senior year of high school on the night Harry broke up with Sally. They are not meant to serve as a blood-pact you and your buddies made as freshmen in college to never lose your love for the Dave Matthews Band. The Firedancer logo you all got stamped on your lower back was a bad idea—and you all know it. Even hardened ex-con’s who find themselves back in the real world, looking for a job and doing their best to blend seamlessly back into society, regret the varicose vein colored spider web spreading out over the left side of their neck. 

Like I said, I admit to being one of those teenage idiots who couldn’t be told anything either, and now I have a horrendous cartoon profile of a tribal mermaid on my chest that makes my wife laugh/cringe almost every night when we brush our teeth—and it isn’t the good kind of laugh, either. I won’t mention the beach. It’s downright embarrassing.

But—lesson learned and lesson owned. Now it’s a lesson preached. My next session in the parlor chair didn’t happen until many years later when cancer murdered my father in 2002. I branded his name, as boldly as I could down my right forearm. I put it there to be asked about, so I’d be reminded to bring him up in conversation every day—and I do to this day.

That right there is what the tattoo is supposed to be. It’s a scar worth talking about.

My woman’s name came next. Not my high-school girlfriend or even the next one. No, I waited for the one. The woman I was humbled by as she gave birth to our son. My wife’s moniker went down the left arm, so the world could be a witness to what I had been able to accomplish with a little Southern drawl and a lot of boyish charm. It’s also a daily reminder of how much I have to lose if I let that charm go too far. My children’s names encircled my wrists, as they were born, Talia, Ivy, Olivia, and Wyatt. A big Gerber daisy was added that I continuously catch flack for, but it represents my wedding day so it’s worth the beating. The landmarks of my life are all represented in bright traditional color. It’s not just art. It’s my life.

Now, can you say that about the Tweedy Bird on your shoulder blade? Or can I about the ridiculous mermaid on my chest? The answer is a hard “no”. People ask me all the time if my tattoos hurt, and I always tell them the same thing. Of course they did. They hurt like hell. It’s a needle digging into your skin. You bleed. You feel every second of it. All Art hurts. If it doesn’t, then you’re doing it wrong. I also tell them about another hard rule from my playbook.

Life is pain. And it stings like a hornet sometimes, but without that pain, how could you possibly be able to tell what redemption feels like.

Article appears in the August/September 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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