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Tattoo envy


I’ve got tattoo envy. Sure, I’m in a member in good standing of “Club Inked”, but in the realm of what’s possible, three plain black Hebrew letters on a forearm, a total of of 3 square inches, is pretty darn tame. This weekend I met the daughter of a friend who hosts a gorgeous, color-bursting work of art on her upper chest: six-point stars expanded into mandala designs and swirling blue clouds (see below). We had a great conversation, me and this young woman 30 years my junior — and the entire time I could barely keep my eyes off her tattoo. What colors! What verve! It made me want to dance.

My own tattoo is definitely not about art. It is a clear and simple statement about something precious to me (truth) in a language that is the holy/street language of my tribe. Sarah’s Judaism informed and inspired her choice of tattoos (did I mention the sizable black & white hamsa on her upper back?) as it did mine. Making my tattoo artistically beautiful didn’t occur to me 14 months ago, but now I’m feeling a little sheepish. I was awfully literal. A little beauty wouldn’t have hurt.

(Well, actually, it would have hurt. Every extra line, color, squiggle, centimeter – every little everything means more time under the needle. And the needle hurts. Stings. Burns. Not impossibly or unbearably, but still…)

I’ll come clean here. There is part of me that can’t imagine walking around with something so BIG. Something so conspicuous and (dare I say it?) youthful. And there is a part of me, perhaps larger, that is envious: of the tattoo itself and of the chutzpah it takes to make it part of one’s life. The pain and the cost and the commitment. The realization that usually arrives after the tattoo: this is part of me! For Sarah, it meant, among other things, certain fashion considerations (no more sheath dresses). For me, it’s a constant monitoring of who might be offended in a crowd of Jews – a side effect I didn’t think about until afterwards and which, in retrospect, was a bit dumb given that I do social justice and Middle East peace work surrounded by other Jews.

Anyway, I’m now thinking about tattoo #2. I’ve been contemplating an infinity sign for a while, but that too is plain and straightforward. A hamsa, maybe. Something with decorative appeal. And I’m trying to figure out how to beautify “truth” without cheapening or hiding it. Something simple, but with a little bit of jazz. Some color. All ideas welcome.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/04/2010 11:58 am

    for inspiration, for a tattoo or anything else I recommend

  2. 01/05/2010 1:22 pm

    Those are beautiful tattoos, and I think this young woman (and you) are wonderfully brave. Decision and commitment don’t come easily to me — I can’t even decide on how to get my hair cut, so I leave it long. I can’t imagine making a commitment to a permanent tattoo. I think I would suffer from immediate buyer’s remorse.

    But the more interesting question to me, considering the tone and topics of your blog, is that you are so interested in tattoos given that Jewish law does not generally permit them and the obvious taboo against them because of the Holocaust. Perhaps its a way to “take back” something and make it your own. This would be a great Two Kinds of People post for my contest — Jews and Tattoos.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      01/05/2010 2:02 pm

      Fear of buyer’s remorse was, in part, responsible for how long it took me to finally get inked: I wanted to make sure I had the absolute right design in mind before I went ahead. I’ve not regretted it since, though as noted in my post, there have been times that I’ve reconsidered its obvious location (only invisible in winter). You’re right that Jewish law does not smile kindly on tattoos, though I’m the kind of Jew more inclined towards positive displays of religious practice (Shabbat, for instance) than negative. As for the Holocaust, there will be a future post or two on this…

  3. 01/05/2010 6:46 pm

    my future tattoos has to be personal, have a meaning/history kinda like markers in my book of life. but my golden rule is all this have to have something to do with the past, the present and the future because they go in a circle forever.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      01/06/2010 3:53 pm

      I like this – markers in my book of life. I wonder why folks get tattoos that aren’t personal (not that I’m judging, mind you, I’m just curious).

  4. 01/07/2010 8:06 am

    I have wondered the same thing. they have had quizes about it and a high procent of those who gets tribal tattoos regrets it later on just because it never had a personal meaning and they grow tired of it after some years

  5. Libby permalink
    01/07/2010 10:17 am

    What immediately came to my mind was my own bat mitzvah invitation my mom designed; it was a steel mogen david with vines of flowers twined all around it. I still love the sentiment of that- the strong, ever-lasting symbol beautified and made warm and lovely and tangible. Why not wrap some flowers or stars or beauty around the truth?

    • sue swartz permalink*
      01/07/2010 2:04 pm

      Vines of flowers? That sounds really lovely. And Edenic. Thanks.

  6. 01/07/2010 4:12 pm

    ditto here – I can’t imagine why people get tattoos that aren’t personal (unless, of course, they’re really, really drunk), nor why they usually turn to the ready-made flash on the shop walls. my Tattoos for Two project is about tattoos with a shared meaning. does that make them ultra-personal? another coincidence between you and me, Sue: we each have a single tattoo in the same place. mine’s the upper forearm in the photo at the top ( my partner’s Jewish, and not everyone approved of him getting inked, especially on his forearm. but I like the attitude of the Levine family, shown at the bottom left. there are three more brothers, all heavily inked, and David (on the right), says, “We’re as tattooed as we are Jewish.”

  7. 01/14/2010 12:19 pm

    Tattoos are a reflection of your personality and I have always gone for those tattoos that can truly reflect my personality.

  8. 01/15/2010 3:27 pm

    Sue, I wanted to contribute the one tattoo-related link from my blog, since you so kindly linked to me. This is a scandelously edgy Jew-ttoo I posted a year ago: the Shma.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      01/15/2010 4:42 pm

      Other than its location, you wanna share why you find this so alluring?

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