Friday, January 29, 2010

A Seattle Trip and Tattoo Mapping

I just spent like 20 minutes standing in front of a full length mirror in my underwear. Weird, yes, I know. And could be the first line to many an interesting tale, but I was studying my tattoos and trying to figure out the Tattoo Master Plan.

Last night in the shower I had a brainstorm. (what? is that weird too? because it's one of my best thinking places.) Just this week I booked a trip to Seattle with two of my dearest friends, Eryn and Jenny. The three of us met on a music message board back around 2000. Jenny was living in St. Louis, where I was originally from, going to the same college as my brother. Eryn lived in Oak Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit and I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Strange connections, it felt like we were being pulled toward each other. And of course we also had music in common. All three of us loved the early nineties music of our youth (well, they are a little younger than me), like Nirvana, Hole, and Alice in Chains. I traveled to Detroit to see Eryn, as did Jenny. I visited Jenny while visiting my brother in St. Louis. And then we decided we should do a big trip together. It was the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, his music had had a huge impact on all of us, and none of us had been to Seattle. So we planned a trip to the place that had been our music mecca when we were younger, all of us at point having fantasized about running away to Seattle. The trip was centered on music geekery (let's find the house where Nirvana played their first show!) and also paying homage to Kurt. It was fun and I definitely have to plan to stalk rock 'n' roll history in other cities. But what I didn't expect was for the trip to transform me.

I was doing it to indulge my inner teenager--the fourteen year old kid whose parents had denied her the opportunity to see her favorite band, Nirvana, live, and who couldn't be at the memorial for Kurt Cobain at the Seattle Center in 1994 even though she'd wanted to so badly. As a teenager, I'd pondered running away to/moving to Seattle or Olympia or Minneapolis, as those were my big musical meccas (Seattle obviously=Nirvana, The Gits & Alice In Chains, Olympia=Bikini Kill & Sleater Kinney, Minneapolis=Babes in Toyland & The Replacements). I'd actually almost moved to Minneapolis but when I finally visited, I wasn't particularly impressed so I ended up moving to Madison instead. Because of that, I didn't expect much from my visit to Seattle. I figured it would be gray, rainy, blah blah blah, and I'd grown up enough to realize that just because bands you like are from a certain city, it doesn't make that a magical place. (I should have known this all along seeing as Chicago is amazing city when it comes to music.)

But as soon as I stepped out of the airport and walked to the bus stop, I realized I was wrong to have had such low expectations about Seattle. The smell of the air got to me immediately: rain, pine needles, and big bodies of water. Riding on the bus downtown, I couldn't stop staring at the greenness of it all. I wondered why people always focused on the gray when they talked about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Clouds may be gray, but rain makes everything so green! Oh I guess that's why it's called the emerald city... Then we got off the bus and all the cherry blossoms were in bloom. And I just felt like deep inside me something fresh and bright was blooming out of the gray sad mass that had been sitting inside of me since my teenage years.

I wrote an essay about my first trip to Seattle on Fresh Yarn. It focuses a lot on the music geekery but it also explains how through the music geekery, I started to get a sense of closure with a lot of things that had been haunting me. I'm still not sure exactly how that happened. But there are a few things I know for sure:

1. Seattle is my place. I never thought I'd have a place. Every time I go somewhere new, I tend to notice the ways in which I don't fit first. Sure I've visited and loved other places and I'm mostly comfortable where I live now, but that took *a lot* of work for me to feel at home in the Chicago area. Seriously, as soon as I arrived in Seattle, my heart, soul, and body were screaming at me, "You are home!" It was very bizarre. I don't think I'm explaining it well. It was just a feeling. Unfortunately, I don't have the means to move to Seattle anytime soon. So once a year I visit.

2. I don't think I'd be where I am now without that trip in 2004. At that point, I'd been pretty fucked up for about eleven years or so. Battling with depression, still haunted by mistakes from my past. I kind of was getting a handle on things. I was back in school, I was writing, I was in therapy. But I was still in a bad relationship and drinking pretty heavily. I was not brave enough yet to forge a new path out of the darkness. I kept falling back into old, unhealthy methods of escape. A little over a year after that first trip to Seattle, my life turned around. That trip helped me realize my inner strength.

3. Jenny and Eryn are true life long friends. That trip sealed our bond. And Seattle spoke to them too. I don't know if it is in the same way as it did me, probably not, it was probably very personal. But regardless we have been bound together and we have been bound to the city.

So, ummm back to the brainstorm in the shower and the standing in my underwear in front of my mirror...

Eryn and I have gone to Seattle almost every year since 2004 together. We said at one point that we wanted to get a tattoo together while we were there, but we'd never come up with an idea of *what* we wanted to get. We wanted to represent the city somehow, but it's not like I was going to get the Space Needle tattooed on me or something.

Jenny is finally able to come back to Seattle with us this year. We're going just the three of us (we had two other girls with us in 2004) and it's very special to go to my favorite city with two of my dearest friends who I only get to see probably once a year because they live in other states. Maybe I was thinking of Jenny's tattoo, a gorgeous rendition of Ophelia similar to this painting. But suddenly it popped into my head: cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms will always remind me of Seattle, particularly that first trip there. Eryn and I should get cherry blossoms and maybe Jenny would want to get them too so the three of us would be linked together by our ink.

I started fantasizing then about where I would put the blossoms, but first I had to see if I was just being crazy or if Eryn and Jenny would be on board. So I rushed out of the shower to email them. They immediately responded that they like the idea.

So I'll be getting a new tattoo in April in Seattle... I've only gone outside of my usual shop for a tattoo once and it wasn't the best experience (fortunately the design was very simple and hard to fuck up), so if anyone has experience with getting tattooed in Seattle and can recommend an artist and/or shop, please do.

Now the issue is positioning.... Stupidly, when I started getting tattoos, I only thought I'd be getting a couple. Well, I'd planned on seven to be precise. This was mainly because I was dating a guy who didn't like tattoos (I know, stupid. One of the many reasons I should not have wasted 8 years with him) and when I would get one he'd be like, "You aren't getting *more* are you?" So I told him that I thought I would probably get a total of 7 because 7 is my number, but don't worry, they'll be small. So now I have some various small tattoos in places that would have been good to do a larger piece (ie my back) and it is going to be hard to pull them all together and have them look cool. Sigh.

I have two larger pieces that I ultimately want done. One is this bad ass mermaid that has a ship staked on her trident. I think that will likely go on the back of my right calf. It will wrap around my leg nicely and I think it will go well thematically with this tattoo that I got with my best friend:

Okay, you probably don't see how a mermaid goes thematically with boot prints, but the bad ass mermaid does and that tattoo reminds me of pirates which also remind me of the BFF so just trust me it works. The only issue is that on my right ankle, I have my cat's pawprint:

That doesn't really go with the theme, but it's small, so it may not be an issue. The only question is do I want to get my other kitty's pawprints tattooed as well because obviously I love them too or do I just stick with Sid since he was my firstborn so to speak. But if I do get the other paws where would they go?

The plan B for my mermaid would be my back. The design would be similar to classic tattoo style like I have on my left shoulder:

The ship on the mermaid's trident could stretch my right shoulder and the main image be centered on my back. However the issue with this is my Nirvana orchid which is on the right side of my lower back:

Though I suppose I could just add more orchids and have basically a border of orchids along the bottom of my back. It wouldn't all go together perfectly, but it would still look fine as three separate tattoos sharing space...

But then there is one other image I've been toying with... my muse. Originally she was just going to be a fairy with a book on her lap, wearing headphones. It was going to go on my right forearm and maybe music notes from her headphones would connect into my IWBYJR/girl power tattoo on my upper right arm:

But then I sort of fell out of love with that idea. Yes, books and music are my muse, but I don't think my muse is really that pretty and simple of an image. My muse is rooted in dark places. My muse is like the drowning of Ophelia or the fall of Persephone into the Underworld except they don't really drown or fall, they catch themselves at the last minute and try to claw their way out. So now I want to come up with a new design that will capture that image, of a girl lifting herself out of the darkness. And I don't think I want it on my right forearm because I think I am putting a design that I'm getting with my husband there.

I have some imagery on my left forearm that goes with this, a tattoo that I got in memory of a friend who helped me through some hard times in high school, and my firefly that symbolizes my own escape from dark times. You can see these and hear me explain the firefly in this video:

I'd like my girl to go on this arm, but I'm not sure how it will work. I really need to sell another book so I have money to consult with my usual tattoo artist on if this is possible. If not, I guess I will have to ponder my back for that one, though I really don't know if it would fit with those other tattoos. Sigh.

BUT getting back to my cherry blossoms. I pondered a few different places for those. One being just below my rib cage, though that would pretty much rule out having kids since pregnancy would screw that up. One was on the back of my neck, though I felt that might be too near my roses on my left shoulder. And the other is on my chest.

Since the cherry blossoms symbolize Seattle in a way, as well as two of my dearest friends it makes sense to have them near my heart and I also thought that perhaps if I do my muse girl design on my left arm, they can branch out onto my shoulder and become part of what she is reaching for...or if I don't do the muse girl, I can still have cherry blossoms branch out onto that shoulder and some other imagery about emerging from the darkness to continue with the theme of that arm. I've thought of a phrase to potentially go among the cherry blossoms: "The pen is mightier than the pain." It just popped into my head while I was staring at my tattoos in the mirror. That spin on the cliche pretty much sums up what writing means to me and that also seems like it should be close to my heart. So right now I am thinking about something like this, except no bunny and maybe putting in that phrase instead...

So yeah that's the idea for now, but I'll be thinking on it for awhile. From now on, everything I get must fit into the master tattoo map. Sigh, I really need money for ink!

What about you, any exciting trips or tattoos planned?


Annika said...

I only have two tattoos (a dragon on my left upper arm and stars on my right upper arm/shoulder), which should be easy to work around. I've been semi-obsessively planning my future tattoos for about two years, because I want everything to work together PERFECTLY, which I know is a slightly unrealistic expectation.

My very next tattoo will actually just be a tweak--a fourth star, since there are four of us. The three stars weren't meant to represent me, Will, and Sam, but since I got them after Sam was born it makes sense to get another star for Grace.

maybeimamazed02 said...

What a cool post! I've always wanted to visit Seattle, and I love hearing about people's tattoos.

I have one, currently: a purple star in the middle of my back. I thought about it for two years just to make sure it was exactly what I wanted, and I love it. I've always loved stars, purple is my favorite color, and as childish as it sounds, I loved Rainbow Brite when I was little, and I loved the purple star on her cheek. Plus, I got the tattoo at a place on Venice Beach (the tattoo artist turned out to be from Oak Park, IL!) with my best friend by my side, so that was very cool.

If I get a second tattoo, I want to do it in L.A. again (not that there aren't good places around here, but I guess I just associate tattoo-getting with L.A.). I was thinking the word "grace" in typewriter font below my shoulder blade. There are many reasons I love this word: 1) I am a dancer, 2) it's the name of a good friend's daughter, 3) it's also the name of my favorite character from the first novel I ever wrote, who was also sort of my alter ego. The novel will probably never get published, but I love this character so much.

Have fun in Seattle!

heilige. said...

i love the idea of the muse girl reaching for the cherry blossoms. kind of symbolic of your struggles with depression, like a girl reaching for happiness, or a place, or people that you love; make you happy.

my ophelia tattoo ( is very symbolic of how i've struggled with it my entire life. it's such a depressing looking tattoo, but it actually reminds me to be happy.

i was planning on the master tattoo plan being something along the lines of a tribute to everyone/everything that is important to me. this tattoo will be awesome, because i haven't yet found a way to tribute two of my best friends.

i'll probably post some ideas i have later on FB or maybe on my blog.

Alicia said...

Hi, I live in Seattle and one of the best places to get tattooed is Slave to the Needle. It's also somewhat of a Seattle staple as well and one of the most popular and well known shops in the city. It's a little pricier than some others, but no matter who you get to do the ink, it'll be amazing.

Z said...

This year for my birthday, I am getting my first tattoo with my mom by this kick-ass female colour artist around where we live.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Annika, good for you doing all that planning. And that is so cool that you are adding a star for Grace!

Lauren, what a great tattoo experience. I love doing tats with friends at my side obviously :) And your next tattoo idea sounds wonderful too!

Jenny, I'm glad you like my idea. YOu phrased it way better than I could too, lol. Now I just hope my guy can design it to fit. I like your master tattoo plan, that is how I think of mine too. Can't wait to see your ideas for the cherry blossoms.

Alicia, thanks for the rec.

Z, sounds like a great birthday present! Have a good experience!

Liviania said...

I think branching along the shoulder sounds really pretty. As for the back of the neck . . . neck tattoos just scream prison to me. I really dislike them.

But it's interesting to hear your thoughts about placement. I don't have any tattoos of my own, but I'm really judgy due to my mom's interest in tattoos. Random art placed together bothers me. I don't mind extensive tattoos, but it isn't like they exist in a vacuum. They're on a canvas. Really, you have the best kind. Ones that mean something and were thought about, instead of picking a piece of flash art of the wall. (I really don't know how I ended up this snobby about tattoos. I don't even want one of my own, due to my relationship with needles.)

And I know what you mean about having a city. I've gone to overnight camps and such before I left elementary, and I've never been homesick. I spent five weeks in Oxford and I dream about it constantly. I am considering the logistics of moving to England and what I would need to do like *now* to change my school/career plans and how I would get a visa or whatever and what I would tell my family. I have no clue how I'd do it and I doubt I have the courage but I keep thinking about walking over the cobblestones in my heels.

John K said...

I was going to Chicago for my birthday but I said fuck it because STL is already cold and my money likes being in other peoples pockets more than mine. That and my friends give a WTF!?! look when I saw Chicago because it's so damn cold. No tattoos yet, but i'm planning on a Rancid back tattoo (You know the shirt with the scribbly letters and bat? That one.) and a hour glass with Bat Wings ala Larry Arms. I always wanted hinges on all my joints. mThat would be cool.
I know what you mean by "your place" and that is San Francisco for me.

Bands you might enjoy:
Grim Dylan:
The Spoilers:
Designer Drugs:
F Bombers:
Black Nazerene:
And one guy band: The Chaotics (THE most punk thing to happen to STL. Or at least NoCo.)

Sorry if this is gratuitously long...

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Livania- You definitely are opinionated :) I agree with you on a lot of it, you do have to take your body as a canvas seriously. I fucked up a bit in not planning perfectly, but oh well. As for neck tattoos, Idk, a lot of times they are trashy, but I think the back of the neck is cool, a tat that shows beneath short hair or hair worn up. I like that. Other parts of the neck, I don't really like unless someone is really tatted up and it spills onto their neck and is done really well. And ooh, girl, if you have a way to make your dream city come true I say do it (I've never even been overseas, but the idea of that sound is totally appealing), but yeah, the idea of a big move is really hard. I have to get past $ issues before I can consider this cross country move.

John, yeah Chicago is fucking cold and awful this time of year. Cool tattoo ideas and thanks for the band recommendations