When the heart is most afire, that is the time to write.

And that time is now. I have so much to say that it’s like something was set alight in my chest and my body is a moment frozen in time; the explosion was ignited but is held in stasis inside, ready to go off. I think it has to explode here. I want to write her a song. I want to write about songs. I want to write about incredible performances I’ve seen that made me proud to be a member of the human race. I want to write about my confusion and determination, to try and figure out a plan for the way forward. I want to write about so much happiness. So much sadness. The paradox of being. Thank goodness for words.

Do you ever lie awake at night with so many thoughts and ideas rattling around your brain you can’t possibly sleep? I know each of us is afforded the same amount of time per day, but I feel eternally that it’s not enough. I wish it were a real commodity; I’d buy so much from other people. Nights they spend in front of the television that will disappear into the past completely wasted. I’d scoop them all up and make so many things. Songs. Stories. Photographs. Memories. I sometimes wish I weren’t so invested in so many things.

But I can’t do things by halves. I pour every ounce of everything I am into everything I do, and it frustrates me and sometimes breaks my heart. When it’s not reciprocal, it hurts, and instead of seeing it as the simple fact that other people don’t always feel so extremely (and that’s okay), I feel saddened and alone and confused. My heart will always take my head in any fight, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change that. I’m a little all over the place right now, so this post probably will be, too. Thank you for bearing with me.

I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job at doing what I’m supposed to be doing lately. Storytelling, in some way or another. I’ve made some images, posted a song I wrote, and entered a writing competition with something I made over a few lunch hours, ending up with about 3,500 words. I love being able to tell stories in more than one way, but I sometimes question if I should.

Should I focus on one avenue at the cost of the others? If I want to be a real writer, I should spend all my storytelling time telling stories through the written word. If I want to be a half-decent musician, I should spend my time writing more songs, learning how to perform, and getting things recorded. If I want to be a photographer, I should spend more time taking and editing images. But I’m so very drawn to all three. Writing most. But sometimes an idea has to come out as music or art instead, and I don’t want to limit myself. But I don’t want to spread myself thin, either.

The Triad and the Harvest Moon

garyMusic is something I’ve been passionate about for probably close to the same amount of time as I’ve been on the planet. As a kid, I remember anxiously sitting by the radio, waiting for a song to come on to record onto a mix tape. I’ll still spend a few hundred dollars I don’t have travelling to other cities to see a favourite band. I curated mix CDs for friends for years (damn modern technology; how do you do that now?) and grew up listening to my dad’s punk and new wave, and to this day we basically have the same taste. We went to a Gary Numan show this week – something I was looking forward to (Godfather!) but had no idea how incredible it would be! This man blew me away. Everyone knows Cars, but holy crap. I loved everything he played, and his performance was mesmerising. It was as if the music had been injected into his every vein, fuelling his movement and delivery; the result an electric art piece (that rocked SO hard) that words fail to describe. Everyone in the audience was awe-struck. There was an excitement and wonder that filled the air as we watched him command the stage with body contortions and vast, stylized gestures that made it appear like he was channelling so much more than music. No wonder so many artists cite him as their biggest influence.

I’ve always adored music, but I never dreamed I’d ever be able to make it. I took classes in school, but always struggled with being able to read sheet music. I was in stage school for a brief period and loved it, but I lost a lot of confidence in my early-mid twenties and though I loved to sing, I’d ensure every window was closed and nobody was home before I ever dared sing along to something. My biggest reason for getting a car wasn’t for transportation; it was so I’d have a space where nobody would see me that I could sing in as much as I liked.

I wrote my first song at about this time last year, and I surprised myself. You know me; I like to write thousands of words at a time. A song is about 200. Yet it somehow worked. My little story fit into a couple of verses and a chorus. So I kept going. Now I’m in the habit of writing down stray sentences and turns of phrase in an ongoing Google document, and recording random bits of melody on my phone if inspiration strikes. But why am I doing it? I’m still terrified of performing, but I have this immense desire to create music. I want to keep writing songs, learning more chords, and strengthening my voice until it becomes one I’m actually proud of. Not because I need to entertain people; far from it. I think it’s because, like my old friend once told me, we don’t have these insatiable longings for no reason at all. We have them because we should be doing something about them. And I think my reason is to prove to myself that maybe I can be good. I’ve spent years trying to let what’s on the inside emerge externally; to become the person I’ve always wanted to be. Recognising the discrepancy between where I was and where I wanted to be and actually doing something about it. But I don’t think I’ll ever be done.

That reminds me. I finally got some work done on my tattoo! This thing has cursed my back for years, and the last time I tried to cover it up it ended with me leaving the shop in tears, insulted, and in ridiculous amounts of pain (chronic abnormality; my back is always in spasm and hurting, and having needles in it doesn’t tend to go well. I can sit through being inked anywhere else on my body!). I finally went back in to see Ivy, who’s been creating this wonderful piece on my arm, and she understood my situation. It was going to be a cover up of a messy, quarter-finished cover up attempt on a back that hurts just to touch: not fun, but it was time. She designed something perfect, and I’ve got the hardest piece done, even if it was quite possibly one of the most painful things of my entire life. A ship, to represent the sentiment of always sailing forward, even if you don’t know which direction you’re going. I refuse to ever settle and stay still when there is so much life to be lived. An albatross, too, because they are beautiful and strong and can last for days and days on nothing at all. And a Frank Turner lyric, “I face the horizon, the horizon is my home,” supporting the ship itself in the same typeface and style as everything on my arm. The sentiment is perfect, and it just encompasses (no pun intended) the way I absolutely have to live my life.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying. I want to make music. I also want to make art and edit images and create whimsical fairytales told by a single photograph. I’m almost at 1,000 on my photography/art type stuff Facebook page, and I could edit for hours and hours. I love compositing, creating magical stories, and I have so very much to learn still. And I want to learn it all. I want to be as good as Brooke Shaden. I have a shoot I’ve organised for December with close to thirty people taking part, and I’m so excited for the day, but I’m beyond excited for the editing process and the resultant album. But again, these things take time.

I also have to finish my novel. Now winter is here I’ll be spending far more time indoors and not running around barefoot in forests, and it’s been a goal to have the whole thing finished before I turn thirty. That’s only seven months away. But if people can Wri Nos in a Mo, I think I can do it. The Professor and I I’m sure will start our writing nights again, just like before. 🙂

There are a few things up in the air right now, but writing this stream of consciousness has helped settle me. This evening I will build a blanket fort and make epic grilled cheese sandwiches and light sparklers for Bonfire Night with one of my favourite people in the world. The rest will sort itself out. It always does. And life is full of a lot of wonderful.

My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story

I’ve been wanting to post about this for a really long time, but I wanted to wait until a little more progress had been made than after my initial visit. One of my 30 Before 30 was to get a text sleeve: I’d seen a handful of photos online that I’d fallen in love with, and have always been drawn to typography tattoos. At the beginning of July, the day finally arrived, and I proceeded to have paper pieces of literature strewn across my arm and shoulder. It wasn’t going to be a quick one – the longest I’ve ever sat for ink in one sitting was three hours, and this was going to be upwards of ten – so, because reality leaves me far less badass than I like to imagine, it was going to have to be done in stages.

Five hours later, I emerged with a decent start. I had Tennyson and parts of Kerouac immortalised on my skin (though the stencil for the latter decided to abandon ship halfway through, leaving a rather amusing “plodin’ across the stars” there until next time), and a giant red immortality from the pen of Emily Dickinson. I was nervous going in – I cry at Pixar movies, and I didn’t want to look like even more of a baby than I usually do day to day crying about this or that (“but it’s so beautiful!” CHOKE) – but I ate Maltesers and had such good conversation with the artist that it went way quicker and easier than I was anticipating.

Before I continue, I have to take a minor detour through crazyville. I hadn’t told many people I’d planned on getting this tattoo immediately, and so a little shock was understandable. But I think downright judgment and public disapproval is more than a little rude. I had a lot of love for the first picture to hit my Facebook wall, but intermingled were a few rather irritating comments in the vein of “whaaaaaaaat”, “WHY” and “dear lord”, followed by something that really made me want to punch somebody:

Crazy!! Why Em? WHY? You are a BEAUTIFUL woman. You really did NOT need this. I apologize if I seem to be old fashioned. Do you wonder what it will look like when you’re in your 50s,60s,70s? You gorgeous wonderful girl. I feel gutted. 

Let’s stop for a second and think about passing the same kind of comment on somebody who decided to go for a nose job or shave all their hair off. People make all sorts of big, appearance-related decisions every day, and they do it for very good reasons. They do it for art, for self esteem, and for expression. And nobody has the right to judge or condemn them for it simply because it’s not what they’d do themselves. I find it equally audacious when people tell me I need to “eat more” and stop being so skinny. Why is that form of judgment acceptable, when telling someone to put down the burgers is seen as cruel?

It’s been about five months since I got the first chunk done, and I think after a few more sittings in the new year, I’ll be done. I’ve fallen in love with it (and my amazing tattoo artist who puts on BBC radio, bundles me in blankets, gives us Christmas decorations and burns awesome TV shows for me) more and more every time I go, and I can’t wait for the finished product.

I suppose I should elaborate on my choice of text a little: The first excerpt across my shoulder is from Ulysses, and talks of the evanescence of the strength of youth, but also of the immortality of the strength of heart and will:

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Around the corner, across the top of my arm, is an excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Beneath, by Emily Dickinson, is one of my favourite quotes about love. Not an everyday kind of love, but a love that burns brighter than any dream imaginable… a love that transcends words, life, time and death:

“That I shall love always, I argue thee that love is life, and life hath immortality.”

The next phase was probably the most painful – the difference between being tattooed on the outside of the arm and being tattooed on the skin inside is indescribable!! This was the only time I cried, and unfortunately this was also the only time nobody was available to come and hold my hand. Not fun, and this one hurt for a good couple of days afterward, too, but thankfully the worst is over! This quote was about writing, and on how beautiful it is to watch the words “tangle with human emotions.”

After this, I had two terribly sciencey quotes added, along with a brilliant splattering of ink across much of what had already been done.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known,” (Carl Sagan), and “ad astra per aspera” (through adversity to the stars… I believe at one point, this was used by NASA).

I have a few strands of text still to go, a couple of stray words and one full-size quote (below), and then, for now, I’ll be finished! The thing I love about this isn’t just the immortality of so many sentiments that mean so much to me, but also that as I grow and evolve, so too can this.

“As I see it, life is an effort to grip before they slip through one’s fingers and slide into oblivion, the startling, the ghastly, or the blindingly exquisite fish of the imagination before they whip away on the endless current and are lost forever in oblivion’s black ocean.”

Love, science, imagination, language, strength and stars now walk with me through life, and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s taking shape. Once this is done, I’m certain I’m going to finally finish the back piece.  After all, if the body is a temple, why not decorate the walls?

Edit: Updates since include adding on to the Carl Sagan quote with “to be known” overlaying the already existing words; knowing another soul and simultaneously being truly known is one of the rarest and most beautiful things in the world, and something I have an insatiable desire to build with anyone I hold dear. I say build – if they’re dear to me, chances are it’s something we probably already share, and for those people, who’ve allowed me in to explore the most hidden depths of their souls, baring their histories and hopes and fears and dreams… allowing me to do the same with them… and giving unconditional love built on that safety, that trust, that knowing… I am incredibly blessed.

Another: “Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” This one was Neil Gaiman, who I love very much. Tales and dreams, emotions, lyrics, hopes, explosions of the heart, and stories of imagination are the things that bring such joy to life. Feelings. A memory told only with facts can sound quite ordinary, but when told with the colour of how it felt, prefaced by the promise of all its potential… these tales bring magic, and they truly are the things that will endure.

They do not exist, and thus they are all that matters

Another month has gone by in the blink of an eye, and once again I find myself missing writing dreadfully. I feel a bit like Tuvok in that Voyager episode where he’s asked to “fire at will,” and responds with something awesome like “I have the will, Captain, but not the means.” Life has been busy (and wonderful), but I’ve felt the pull toward writing sirenesque and impossible to ignore.

I think the time has come to acknowledge the fact that there’s been a shift in my attitude toward blogging: for the last couple of years, it had become a huge part of my life. I loved carving out my own little space and filling it with thoughts and ideas, immortalising them in a way upon which I can later look back, probably laugh at how young and terribly naïve I was, but remember fondly the hopes and dreams, slip-ups and victories, events and emotions that were my life here and now. Through blogging, I got to know all sorts of wonderful people who lived all over the world, and was lucky enough to meet some of them in person. Through blogging, I landed jobs, created a reason to be accountable to my biggest goals, got published in a magazine, and won a trip to Mexico. I got to express myself coherently and somewhat eloquently (the latter’s debatable) when I was too scared or shy to do it in person. Blogging has done wonderful things for my life, and for all of them I am more than thankful – but the time has come for something that’s sat prisoner at the back of my mind for too long, tapping on the jailbars and calling for release. I have become the jailer of my biggest passion, and the time has come to set it free.

I adore the written word. I love reading beautiful prose and lock away beautiful sentences like treasure. I love, when I have time, to sit at my rickety old desk with a glass of port or oversized cup of tea, turn on the fairy lights hanging overhead, light a few candles, and write away the next few hours. But as much as I’ve loved blogging, I’ve felt limited. Not in terms of expression – anyone who’s read for the last little while knows I don’t believe in keeping silent about things that matter – but in terms of style and creativity. Enormous fervor for the English language is tangled around every thought and feeling that floats across my imagination, and I can’t help but feel it’s my biggest calling in life to try to find the words with which to get it out. When I die, I’m quite sure that they’ll find the inside walls of my heart decorated with love letters, pages of Chaucer, and the inlays of hundreds of CD covers, all their lyrics borne of creative geniuses intertwining around the fibres of my soul. Words are my passion, and it seems that when you feel this strongly about something, it should be explored to the absolute limit. It shouldn’t be limited because it’s more comfortable to stay where you are, or because the ephemeral duties of the day-to-day are given priority.

In life, I’ve always been a fan of the saying “that which matters most should never be at the mercy of that which matters least”, and once again I find it situationally apt. I’ve buried the language I love beneath what’s easier, and made excuses about not having time. But I want to write fiction. I want to build characters and create worlds, to write handwritten letters and tell tales that will move people the way I’ve been moved by great literature. And the time has come where I can no longer keep this inside. I’m transitioning from blogging into creative writing, and I absolutely cannot wait.

Step one comes next weekend: after seeing a photo somewhere on the Internet, I’d designed a new tattoo (sadly my back shows no sign of becoming a cooperative team member, so that project’s on hold for the foreseeable future) which I’d fallen in love with – a circular alphabet in a script that looked like it could’ve been scrawled by Shakespeare himself, which I wanted on my inner forearm as an eternal reminder that I should be writing, and of the immense power that lies in words. Unfortunately, the script was so ornate that the size I wanted would render it illegible, and I really wanted it somewhere I could see. So I met with the artist, who asked me all sorts of questions to make sure she understood why I was getting what I was… and by the end of it, we came up with something that captures the spirit just as effectively: a beautiful, old-fashioned quill. And I have every hope that it will not only reflect my love for the written word… but guide me for the rest of my life toward what I truly should be doing. I’ll still stop by every once in a while and update my blog, but today marks the turning point to the world wherein my true passion lies.

“There are only two worlds – your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. these worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power; provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters.”

– Neil Gaiman

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?

Tattoo Update. Bring on Operation: Cover Up the Cover Up!

#21 on my 26 Before 26 is to finally finish my biggest tattoo. In May, I decided it was finally time to get my arse in gear. A couple of months ago, I went ahead with it and basically lost all my money, bawled like a baby, and got shouted at by  the most insensitive, arrogant twat of an artist ever. But last week, I was lucky enough to find a professional who can FIX EVERYTHING!!

Long story short: probably half a decade ago now, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to get matching tattoos with the guy I was with at the time. (Told you I was a smart cookie.) You all know about the epic levels of crapola in THAT relationship, and we were both left with solid, giant black tattoos of our initials intertwined. All I can say is thank heavens we artsied it up a bit and you can barely even tell they’re letters, but STILL, I was branded for life with what felt like an eternal reminder of my younger self’s moronitude.

Flash forward to the present. One of my best friends happens to be dating an INCREDIBLE artist, who drew me up a gorgeous cover up based on the artist’s instructions – “has to be all black to be able to cover it up, and has to be pretty giant.” He designed something PERFECT, and I was so excited to get going with it – a phoenix, symbolising growth from the ashes of the past into something better. We got about a third of the way through the outline before I couldn’t continue – there’s no way I was lasting more than 20 minutes of someone telling me what a baby I’m being and tattooing way too deep regardless of the back pain situation.

So for the last few months, I’ve had this. A piece of outline of a cover up which doesn’t look like anything. I’ve been more okay with it than I thought I would be – the bottom line is it’s no longer what it WAS, and it shows it’s on its way to becoming something else. Which is a good thing. The bad thing being that it kind of looks a bit rubbish.

Last week, I met with someone at a studio close to where I work. A coworker had recommended it to me after she’d gone there for a piercing, and told me just to check it out, saying it was very clean, they were extremely professional, and they even had nurses on staff, so if anyone was going to understand the back situation, they were.  After a few weeks waiting to get in, I went on my lunch break, and met Ivy. AKA MY NEW HERO. She took pictures of my back so she could show me the “ghosting” that’s already started to happen on the outline part. Because he went WAY too deep (apparently if you know someone’s going to have a hard time with the pain for whatever reason, you can outline in a light grey so you can do it really fast), way too dark, and didn’t stop when all the blood started going to the surface (remember those exercise pictures?) so black (apparently the least viscous ink) bled into all the capillaries. Hence it already starting to bleed out. She also informed me the design had way too little white space and would eventually all become one black blob (original jerk artist told me he was going to redesign it with more white space, and DID NOTHING), so long story short: we couldn’t continue this design.

But before I started crying, she also told me black wasn’t the way to go. With cover ups, you use colour and shadow to distract the eye AWAY from the thing you’re covering up. With something big and black, there’s an enormous central focus which makes it look MORE like a cover up. She showed me pages of cover-ups of black tattoos she’d done. Big, gorgeous, colourful, organic looking cover ups that looked amazing. She said this was going to be one of the most challenging things yet, but yes, we can do it. We get to wipe the slate clean. Yes, it’ll have to be ENORMOUS. Yes, it’ll be a 20-30 hour piece. Yes, it’ll cost a fortune. But yes, it’s going to be AWESOME.  I can still get a phoenix. We just have to incorporate colour, a light source (so the left side can be in shadow), and now I get to pick whatever style I want.

So for the next little bit, I’ve been instructed to Do My Research. Find loads of pictures so she can pull together the elements and design something that incorporates the styles and colours I actually like. I’M NOT FATED TO A GIANT BLACK MAN TATTOO. I’m SO excited, and I can’t wait to move on with this!! It’s going to be a long process… but I’m ready, full of renewed hope, slight terror, but determination. The finish line is finally in sight. Bring it. 🙂

Tattoo: The Results (AKA: Epic Fail)

So…. last Tuesday night was the Big Tattoo Expansion Appointment. (For those who missed it, the story of why I had to get it is here.) And it can only be described as one of the most epically awful experiences ever.  I’ll spare you the details of everything I’ve done over the last few years to try and lessen the back pain – you already know I’ve seen more specialists than Heidi Montag’s seen the sharp side of a scalpel. But despite the difficulty, I was determined to get this monstrosity made into something meaningful I could be proud of again.

Monday night, avoiding all advice against psyching myself out, I got barely a couple of hours sleep in apprehension, tossing and turning until about 2am. I spent most of Tuesday researching options for lessening the pain of tattooing over skin that’s already extremely sensitive, bought a topical anaesthetic which would supposedly numb the skin… only to be told by the tattoo artist around lunchtime that it was a bad idea. It would be great if my procedure was going to be less than 45 minutes. Otherwise, for the remaining 2 hours, as it started to wear off, I’d feel all the pain I’d previously been numbed to on top of the new pain I’d be experiencing as he continued, and on top of the already existing condition, it would probably be “unbearable”. His advice: save it for when I come back to get chunks shaded in smaller blocks of time.

So Tuesday. 4:45 pm. I stop at an ATM, take out $300 and head over to the tattoo parlour, feeling slightly sheepish in a white tank top and a black and pink skirt.  They were playing Daft Punk followed by the Spice Girls though, so I couldn’t be that out of place.  They printed the oversized new design, and took me in to get prepped. I’ve had tattoos – I knew what to expect.  I was silently praying for a case of mind over matter, that somehow the pain would be lifted just for a couple of hours so I could get this taken care of.

It didn’t start off too badly, but about 15 minutes in he was already asking if I was okay because my back was “jumping” a lot. The muscles were going into spasm – just like they did for the longest time before I started going for regular massage at the slightest touch. My face was down on the chair; I held my breath hoping the tears would be held back too. 20 minutes in and it was already excruciating. He’d started way out over my left shoulderblade, it being the “better” side of my back, but as he got closer to the spine it became more and more unbearable. I couldn’t help the tears, and I felt like a spectacular loser. I’d told him about my back problem when I initially made the appointment, but I don’t know if he remembered.  I took a break, caught my breath, and decided to keep going. I found myself exhaling, afraid to take a breath in for fear of it hurting more, whispering “it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay” between needlings.  But it wasn’t okay. The muscles kept spasming, and then my whole body started shaking, just like when I got the cortisone shots.  I couldn’t stop, and suddenly I was taken over by fear and pain.  I knew if it was this bad on the left side of my back, the ‘bad side’ wasn’t going to happen. I’d been defeated.

I heard the artist talking loudly, words of this being “a first in all his seventeen years of tattooing” and how there’d be no way he’d ever be able to get it to line up again,” and how I still had to pay him for the whole thing despite only having a quarter of an outline finished. $320 including my deposit, and I left sobbing, my head flooded with all the old voices that told me I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. That not only was I going to have to continue to wear this badge proclaiming my past mistakes, but I have to add another to it, telling the world I just made another one, drawing attention to my former naivety, and ridiculing my present efforts at ridding myself of it.

On the way to the appointment, I’d come up with an idea I thought would help me through it. None of us can write a new past for ourselves, but we can make the choice to start writing a new ending. I wasn’t going to “erase” my past with laser removal, I was going to embrace it for the lessons it taught me, the person it made me, and add to it, it becoming part of something bigger and better, more meaningful; still there, comprising yet also hidden by the person I am today. I thought this would help me get through it, but now it feels like a punishment. That I must be made to wear this badge of past failures, and that I would be made to live with constant pain, day in and day out ensuring I cannot cover it up.

But I have to remind myself that nothing that’s worth doing is done easily. The process of personal transformation was sparked by things nobody should have to experience, though I’m not ready to share those just yet. The most difficult times have led to a determination to change them, and I’m confident I’m doing all I can to achieve that.  But it all seems so easy in comparison to ongoing physical pain, when all you want is for your body to have the strength to be a reflection of the person your mind has worked so hard to become.

Lesson learned? No, if the lesson is that I must resign myself to being branded with my past mistakes. I can’t do anything I can keep trying physical therapy, but I don’t know if it’s working. The effects are fleeting and expensive. I have to accept that in its current state, my back (and bank account) isn’t going to be able to handle another attempt at tattooing.  So, I must find another option. Laser tattoo removal? Perhaps. Though there are only two places in the city that do it – one accompanied with a barrage of horror stories, also costing an arm and a leg, and the other, a cosmetic surgery clinic, an awkward experience in that I worked there for all of three days before quitting based on moral objections. Wouldn’t that be fun to go back? Apparently it hurts just as much, and is just as expensive, and would take just as many sittings as finishing the tattoo. Which apparently can’t be done, because “there’s no way my back will be able to take it in this condition, and there’s no way the design would be able to be lined up again.”

This is what I am left with.  It looks strange and unattractive, but isn’t that often what the road to growth is?  It’s not cookie-cutter, it’s incomplete, and it’s not something, at first glance, one would wish for. But it’s real. It’s a representation of a determination to face my past and embrace it, and of trying to make it part of who I am no matter how painful the process. On Wednesday I met with another tattoo place, somewhere infinitely more understanding, more welcoming, with more impressive portfolios. I was told about the options of going to my doctor to get some strong pain killers prescribed before coming in, and that yes, they could work in small sections – but it was going to be incredibly costly to do it that way.  At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  But until I figure it out, I will wear this disfigurement knowing that one day, with guts, strength and tenacity, and  it will become something beautiful.

Tattoo Update: Wherein it all becomes VERY REAL and VERY SCARY

This past weekend, I did it.
I made the appointment.
To transform something tainted by history into something beautiful, meaningful and new.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of one of my tattoos.    It’s been several years since I closed the door on that chapter of my life, and though I’ve since got other tattoos, this one remains firmly stamped on my back, huge,  a continual reminder of pain,  of mistakes, and of my darkest hours.

In life, I try to learn from mistakes and bad experiences – with people, it can be through the choice to forgive, or to opt out of negative forces.  With work, it can be to focus on how I can better contribute to the future, rather than on errors I may have made in the past.  With anxiety, it can be to remain fiercely determined, taking little steps along the path to finally being free of the fears that have held me back for so long. But with a tattoo? It’s not so easy.

Finances definitely play a part in why I haven’t yet done anything about it.  This thing is six inches high and solid black, and expanding it into something that’s going to really mean something is a big undertaking.  But the biggest reason so far is the pain. My back is an ongoing puzzle I’ve spent the last few years desperately trying to solve. Chronic pain along the right hand side of my back, from the top of my shoulder down to the top of my hip.  I’ve lost count of how much money I’ve funnelled into health care providers; chiropractors, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, massage, and even cortisone injections (that was a fun one.)  I don’t have coverage for this sort of thing, but I’ll do whatever it takes to figure it out.  It stops me being able to do things I want to.  Dance, exercise, go bowling – even going to the movies I carry two tennis balls in with me, placing them in the back of my chair, trying to alleviate some of the pain.  These days, I’m going for incredible amounts of pain deep-tissue massage once a week and diligently doing my exercises every other night. They’re agonizing, and I feel like a total wuss. But I keep my eyes on the prize.

This has, by far, been the biggest reason I haven’t done anything about my tattoo. Yet. But this weekend, I made an appointment for 18th May (that’s two weeks, people!) to get the outline done.  A friend of mine is dating an incredible artist, who worked with what I had and designed something that’s not only amazingly gorgeous, but exactly what I want on my body for life.  It’s an elaborate phoenix, the body of which will cover what I have and extend into artistic and intricate wings that span across the entirety of my upper back.  I love the idea of rebirth and constantly growing into something stronger, better, and more beautiful.  I can’t wait for it to be finished and to show the world.  And it’s a perfect fit.

But I can’t deny I’m afraid.  The artist said we have to get the outline done all in one session – which he imagines will take at least two hours. After that, he told me, I can come back as many times as I like to get the shading done – if I can only stand 45 minutes, I can do 45 minutes.  But two hours? Intimidating, to say the least. Since I’ve started the massage sessions, it’s doing better in that the muscles no longer go into spasm at the slightest touch. But the pain is still there, and the skin very sensitive. I can’t take pain killers beforehand, as they “thin the blood”.  I’m debating going for the cortisone shots again the morning of. But then I remind myself I went into convulsing shock and had to be escorted home in a blanket.

When I’m faced with difficult situations, I try to weigh things out. When I first started facilitating workshops, I was terrified. But I weighed out my fear of public speaking and of judgment with my desire to pass along information that will ultimately help my audience live better lives.  The latter desire was stronger, and that’s what I used to get through it. I also kept in mind that I can’t control what other people are going to think of me – so there is no sense in worry consuming my mind over something of which I have no power. All I can do is the best I can.

In this instance, I’m trying to use the same balancing act to get through it. The first hurdle will be the hardest, but if I can do it, it’ll be the first step on fully closing the chapter on something I have no desire to revisit ever again. I’ve made the mistakes, and I’ve learned from them. They have done their part in shaping me, and shaping the way I look at life.  They have played their part, and it’s fair to be able to close the book and shelve it away for good.  Yes, my desire to do that is stronger than my fear. I know it’s going to be hard. But, as with so many things, the things that mean the most are sometimes the hardest to do.

Wish me luck!

The Next Tattoo Chapter

Many years ago, as some of you know, I was in a relationship with someone who was bad news bears (thank you Ashley for teaching me my new favourite expression!!). I’m not going to go into too much detail – it was hands down the most difficult period of my entire life, and led to my darkest hour – a story to save for another day.  But during this relationship, in a fit of pre-deterioration, honeymoon period infatuation, we decided to get matching tattoos.  Smart cookies, no? Luckily we were slightly smarter than getting red hearts and lovebirds carrying scrolls bearing each other’s names forever branded on our skins, but we still went ahead pretty hardcore. We got a design comprised of our initials, superimposed on each other and stylised in a way that looked nothing like letters, but some sort of chunky tribal symbol.

The relationship declined, the heart was battered to a pulp, and eventually the memories disappeared into the archives of Life Experience, yet the mark on my back remained.  A constant reminder of the naivety of my younger self, the mistakes, the time I sometimes wish I could take back. But I constantly remind myself that life throws us these things to give us opportunities to learn and grow. Perhaps I was a stubborn girl back then. Perhaps, had I not gone through what I did, I never would have had any reason to push myself forward, and strive to reach the potential I hope I possess. We can become bitter about the past, or we can become better because of it. With everything, no matter how difficult, I try to stick to the latter.

But last week, I came to the realisation that I wanted this thing off my back more than I was scared of the pain it would undoubtedly cause. Many of you know about my back condition, and may remember my desperate attempt at relief a few months ago, involving dozens of injections along my spine… and promptly going into uncontrollable convulsions. (You can’t say I’m not a trooper!)

So the thought of getting this tattoo reworked into something I’m not ashamed of, though extremely tempting, is also extremely scary. I met with an artist this week who informed me that to get what I want (and effectively cover up what I have), will in all likelihood end up being half a back piece.  The size doesn’t scare me – I love tattoos, and I love the idea of having something meaningful on my body for the rest of my life – but the extreme pain does.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m HARDLY a wuss – I sat through this one in one sitting while heavy black shading was done over my SPINE – and I know if I didn’t have this problem with my back muscles, it would be a walk in the park (I have a second one on the nape of my neck, which is pain-free, and I didn’t blink an eye).  But this is in Prime Pain Area, which leaves me more than a little nervous.

Nervous, but determined. With less than 8 months to go until my wedding, I want to get this taken care of. Pronto.  Even if it means going every three weeks just for an hour at a time until November. The trouble now, is finding something that will work with what I already have.  I loved this one here – but it has too much white space to really go over the chunky black I already have.  I love Celtic style tattoos, too – but they have the same problem.  I’ve decided I really want to get a phoenix – I love the symbolism of continual growth and new beginnings. But I don’t want a big chunky tribal symbol taking over my whole back because it’s the only thing that works.  This is where I come to you guys. Do you have any idea what I could do to cover this thing up, in less than 7 total hours (I don’t think I could tolerate the pain for more than an hour at a time), that doesn’t involve a thick black MAN tattoo?