Saturday, November 8, 2014

On getting inked

When I was in university, it seemed like every other week, another one of my friends was coming into the campus bar with a tattoo.

I wanted one too. The trouble was, I didn't know what I wanted. Until one day, a close friend of mine grabbed my notebook and spelled out my name in Arabic cursive:


I don't speak or read or understand Arabic. But 19-year-old-me thought it was one of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen. I just knew this was going to be my tattoo.

Until a few days later, a classmate spotted my notebook and said, "Fetus?"

"Excuse me?" I said.

"That word," he said, pointing to the cursive. "It means fetus."

"No it doesn't," I said, as though I was suddenly an Arabic linguist. "It's my name."

"Maybe," he said, "if your name is fetus."

"My name is Jeannine," I said. "NOT fetus."

"Well," he said. "that says jea-nay-na. Which means fetus."

Well shit, I thought to myself. Good thing I found that out before I got it tattooed on my hip.

The experience of almost permanently marking my body with something that I didn't entirely think through and that I would have surely regretted left me feeling pretty gun shy about the whole getting-a-tattoo idea. I still wanted one. But I needed to be sure I was telling the right story. You know, not one about fetuses.

My story started to come together in 2006, when I decided to enter a competitive bodybuilding competition. This was, and always will be, one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. From twice-a-day everyday cardio sessions, to gruelling weight lifting sessions followed by gruelling posing sessions, to a steady diet of plain tuna from a can, to steadily increasing carb deprivation, to a pulled groin that haunts me to this day, to pre-show dehydration, it was 16 weeks of pure hell. Not to mention that I had to completely give up wine.

But as hard as it was, and as miserable as it made me (and Hubby for having to deal with me), I stuck with it until the bitter end. And I got on that stage. And I posed my sore, tired ass off.

And I got second place in Eastern Canada.

And I'm not going to lie. I'm pretty damn proud of that. Even though I cried a lot when I didn't get first place.

Hubby was pretty damn proud too. Which is why he surprised me with the gift of a session with a professional photographer. This was doubly nice, because let's face it, I'm never going to have a visible 6-pack again.

Of the 90-or-so photos that I got back from the session, this one is my favourite:


Something about the neutral, almost vulnerable, expression on my face, juxtaposed against a chiseled back and bicep (that I no longer have) made me fall instantly in love with the soft edginess of this photo. To this day, every time I look at it, two words come to mind: strength and femininity.

And that was what I wanted my tattoo to capture. Except that I had no idea how.

Until last New Year's Eve.

Fergus and I were in the Arboretum when we met another border collie. The puppies played together while we humans chatted and walked along together. Through the course of our conversation, I discovered that he was a tattoo artist. I've never met a tattoo artist before. So as ridiculous as this sounds, it felt like a sign. That 2014 was the year I would finally get my tattoo. By the time we left the Arboretum and went our separate ways, I'd taken down his name and the name of his studio, and I vowed to give him a call to talk about a tattoo.

About a month later, I dreamt about that tattoo. In my dream, the lyrics to Thunder Road were recited over and over and over again. When I woke up, I knew that I had the rest of my story. Because Thunder Road isn't just my favourite song of all time. It is the song to which I walked down the aisle on the day that I married my best friend. The man who supports me through it all. Even when I'm a carb-deprived, bodybuilding basket case.

The next day, I called the tattoo studio and booked a consult. I brought the picture above, as well as photos of the car that Springsteen drove when he wrote Thunder Road (because the last lines of the song urge Mary to climb into his car so they can leave their "town full of losers"), and some of storm clouds over the desert. And we talked. About strength and femininity on the one hand, and about escaping and love on the other. And could we marry the two concepts somehow.

This is what he came up with:


I had no words when I saw it. In part because I wasn't expecting the "me" to be so prominent. In part because I had a cheesy vision of a car driving off into the desert storm. But as I spent more and more time with it, I fell in love with it. The intricate details of the car. The mythical quality to the female figure. Her hair blowing in the wind of a storm. It didn't match the picture in my non-artist's mind. It was infinitely better. We made some minor adjustments, to make "me" recede a little more into the storm clouds. And then I spent two and a half hours straddling a chair, as I lost my tattoo cherry.

(In case you're wondering, it doesn't hurt so much as it is annoying. In what I imagine to be a Chinese water torture kind of a way).

This was the result:

Fresh off the chair - with a little bit of blood

The next day

Believe me when I tell you that pictures do not do it justice. And the more I look at it, the more I see that even though it is another person's interpretation, it a perfect reflection of the story I wanted to tell. My love for my husband (and maybe a little of my love for Bruce) in the picture of our wedding song. Strength and femininity in the image of the "Thunder goddess" hovering over the desert sky. Two seemingly distinct concepts that I never would have imagined together, making a piece of art more perfect than I could have hoped for.

I am so proud to wear this masterpiece on my back. Thank you to Glen and Barnstormer Studio, for a tattoo that was well worth the 20-year wait.

And thank you Fergus for finding the only other border collie in the Arboretum last New Year's Eve. Had you not insisted on harassing that poor dog for his stick, Glen and I would have never met. And I'd still be trying to figure out how to tell this story.