The subject of my editorial this week is one that some might disagree with, but I feel I have to address. A good number of people decide that they should get a tattoo the moment that they turn eighteen for no reason other than the fact that they can. In my opinion, this is one of the worst judgments someone who hasn’t further reasoned through the decision can make.
There are, of course, people who have thought through their decision, and concluded that the risk of the tattoo’s permanence is balanced or outweighed by the meaning of the design they have chosen. I have no problem with this; my issue is with those who get something inked into their skin that only has skin-deep meaning, simply because it becomes legal for them to do so. It annoys me to no end to see a tribal armband or an anchor on the arm of someone who isn’t a tribesman or a sailor, respectively.
It is true that I have a tattoo. It is also true that I plan to add more to the one that I have. However, each design I have constructed holds personal and permanent meaning that will not fade, and can therefore be accurately represented in my future years. To shorten a very long argument, my belief is that a person’s tattoos should essentially turn him or her inside out. By that I mean that the ink in someone’s skin should portray his or her inner emotions, inspirations, desires, or beliefs. A tattoo shouldn’t be something you get just because it “looks cool”. A meaningful design can look just as good as—if not better than—one that holds no inspiration.
You might ask, “Well, Tom, if you’re so big on meaning behind tattoos, prove it. What’s the meaning behind yours?” It’s only right for me to provide an answer. The story that follows is one I’ve told countless times, and remains just as painful the hundredth time as it was the first. It comes in multiple parts, each of which I will recount.
It starts on January 21st, 2009. This particular day I discovered—from a newspaper article—that one of my closest friends had died in a car crash two days before. The grief from this event still sits in my gut like a lead weight, and is something I would never wish even on my worst enemy. With the help of my now-ex best friend, I got through the rest of the year without breaking down completely.
A year later I was in therapy, unable to deal with the sadness caused by this event in accompaniment with my parents’ divorce when I was six years old and the stress caused by preparing for college. I spent the next eleven months meeting with the therapist once a week to work through my issues, but after a few months of steady progress I hit a wall.
At this point, we reach May 2011. I was frustrated at the block I hit, and felt like I was banging my head against bricks. I visited my local Newbury Comics, not expecting any major event, only looking to perhaps purchase a CD or two. I came upon a physical copy of the deluxe edition of The Wonder Years’ The Upsides, which I had purchased digitally on its release date, but had paid no real attention to. Around this time, the band had also released “Local Man Ruins Everything”.
I hadn’t given much thought to the band’s breakout release until it found its way to my car’s CD player. Listening to Soupy’s words every time I drove helped them sink into my psyche more. Regardless, I was still hitting a wall at therapy, until I really listened to the line “It’s not about forcing happiness/ It’s about not letting sadness win” in Local Man. I realized that my problem had been that I tried to ignore my problems and act happy, because I believed that my issues only existed if I let them. Once I accepted that my issues could not be ignored or permanently dealt with, I started letting myself feel the sadness that had built up, and the wall I had been hitting disappeared. In short, like a stereotypical posi-punk kid, The Wonder Years’ music shifted my viewpoint and probably saved my life.
For that reason, I have Hank The Pigeon, the band’s mascot, tattooed on my right upper arm with the words “I’m looking for the upsides”. This serves to show my belief and remind me that parts of life may suck, but they’re never all bad.
My future designs include multiple inspirations but are just as meaningful to me as the first. If a person can find a real reason for his or her tattoos, I have no problem with him or her permanently inking the visual manifestation of that inspiration into his or her skin. The one thing that I feel I have to remind myself and I believe others should remember when considering a tattoo is that, like the loss of my friend at the age of fifteen, tattoos are permanent, and should be considered delicately as so.