Alison, Minneapolis, Vermont and southern California
We’re both writers, and we met last month at the Sharjah International Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates. It was one of those instant connections, an immediate friends-forever sort of thing. The week we spent in Sharjah was filled with deep conversations with writers and illustrators from around the world but mostly from the Middle East. A few days into our trip we went out to the desert together, an experience which included slaloming down steep dunes in four-wheel drive vehicles, a performance by a Sufi spinner, dinner, camels and henna tattoos. Our tattoos, unlike our friendship, will fade in a couple weeks’ time.
My tattoo is a crescent moon. I have a past with my mother and family, and my tattoo symbolizes new beginnings and the making of dreams into reality.
Jacob, Los Angeles
My very first tattoo was what started my career. It was a determined step forward into a new life and a step toward new goals. It was a statement of commitment, whether or not I knew how far I would have to go. All of my tattoos inspire me to try to be a better person and are constant reminders to me to keep working hard and to never give up. And occasionally they make me feel like a super hero.
The question marks and bass clefs came together on the back of a book while I was on the road supporting America’s Got Talent runner-up Cas Haley on his first big tour. “Bass clefs for what I do, and question marks for the inevitable uncertainty of what it is that I do,” is what I told myself. It was something that I kept drawing on night after night after our gigs. By the time we got back home I had finished the pattern and blew a good part of my paycheck on getting it tattooed onto my self. Through the course of my career, this first tattoo has become my business logo and shows up on my website, my business cards, it’s inlaid on the front of two of my electric basses, and it’s even on the front of my first record. Don’t be surprised to see it on t-shirts soon!
My tattoo story begins in sadness and ends in happiness. Five years ago my partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We thought he had only a short time to live. At one point, early into the shock of it all, he said to me in passing, “You’re a shooting star.” It was such a beautiful thing to say, and so surprising to me, because I don’t think of myself that way. But more than that, the idea that he had said this to me in the midst of what he was coping with made me think, Okay, I can do this. I can be strong. And I got this tattoo on my forearm to remind me of what he’d said. He survived the cancer –we are so lucky–and I treasure my tattoo.
I just published a book titled “The Play’s the Thing,” aimed at young adults, with the goal of making Shakespeare something that you want to read instead of have to read. Shakespeare’s plays have been incredibly meaningful to me, and I decided to commemorate the end of the project with two tattoos.
The first is from Henry IV, Part One. Falstaff, reluctant to go to war, says, instead, “Give me life.” The second is from The Winter’s Tale, in which Leontes, convinced his wife has been fooling around with his best friend and certain that his newborn daughter is not his, orders Antigonus to take the child to a remote place and abandon her there. Which Antigonus does, but after he leaves her, the audience hears hunting horns and barking dogs, which leads to the greatest stage direction ever: “Exit pursued by a bear.” (He’s eaten off stage.)
So on one arm, there’s give me life. On the other, an acknowledgment that when you least expect it, you can get eaten by a bear.
This tattoo is on my right shoulder. I’m a writer, and this is how I view what I do. I bring words to life. I let them leap off the page and become their own creatures.
My parents literally have my back. My mom and I got matching tattoos a few years ago — roses, because Rose is her middle name. I’d said I might go for it on Facebook, and the next time she visited me in Seattle, we both went for it!
And on my dad’s birthday, November 22, in 2014, I had the first of three sessions on a sunflower/dahlia tattoo. Sunflowers were his favorite flower (he loved Van Gogh!), and I’d been wanting this tattoo for a long time. On that same birthday, he was in intensive care after surgery for the cancer that took his life five months later. I’m grateful he got to see my sunflowers — something permanent can be very comforting.
Heather, New York City
I loved this line from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman as soon as I read it in a Romantic Literature class in college. I carried it around in my pocket for ages, thinking how it captured my whole life philosophy so well in just a few words. (The whole line is Do I contradict myself? Very well. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.) And I had the idea to tattoo it onto my forearm. But the aesthetics never quite came through for me, because choosing a font was impossible. I knew whatever I chose I’d end up hating in a year or two. I was talking with a good friend about it, and he said, “Why not get it in Walt Whitman’s handwriting?” And it was the aha moment I’d been waiting for. I scanned the internet looking for the right manuscript pages. Turns out they didn’t exist, but I was able to cobble the words together from a few separate sources. (If you look closely, you can see that “multitudes” changes style in the middle…it gets messier at the end, because it came from two entirely different words from different poems written years apart.) The artist was Michelle Tarantelli at Saved Tattoo in Willliamsburg. I admired the nuance she was able to get in her black and white art, and knew she’d be able to capture the feeling of a fountain pen.
My dad passed away last year suddenly. My sister and I were devastated and decided to do tribute tattoos for him on our right wrists. My original idea was to copy a poster he had made in the garage in his handwriting. It was a Chevy Symbol with the Words 1 HOT VET. He restored Corvettes as a hobby and I came up with the specialized plate for the 1962 (he also restored a 1958) which was 1HTVET. However, after thinking about it, I wasn’t really crazy about having to explain why my wrist says “1 Hot Vet” on it. So, luckily, my sister was going to do a poppy with his signature as the stem. I fell in love with her idea. My dad served in the Air Force during Vietnam, and at the time of his death was the Commander of the VFW Post in Bloomingdale, IL. Being a Veteran was very important to him. Poppies are a symbol of remembering our Veterans. My Dad is obviously my favorite Veteran. Finding his signature for the stem was not as easy as one might think, but we got it. In the end my sister also changed her mind and went with just his signature. This is by far the tattoo that gets the most compliments.
My two sisters and I have this tattoo on our wrists. My oldest daughter designed it for us. Three music clefs: the treble clef is up on mine because it looks like an S for Stacy; the bass clef is up on my sister Jen’s because it kind of looks like a J; and the alto clef is up on my sister Becky’s because it looks like a B. We all took piano lessons as kids and were in band all through high school, so music was in our lives.