Notes from the mid-life crisis: body art edition

I was 21 when I saw my first nose piercing. He was a blond god of a lorry driver and I couldn't take my eyes off his nose ring. I asked all the ignorant questions you'd expect from a sheltered Trinidadian girl and he was remarkably patient and polite. When I told my then-husband I wanted one, he threatened divorce. I still wanted one.

Fast-forward through to the divorce, Boy and I were living at the university in family quarters. There the lecturers and students were pierced and tattooed and I wanted both. I was lucky enough to hang around with a group of people who were willing to give good advice about body art. I wanted a tattoo but I could never make my mind up what and where. Then there was the rebound relationship with a straighter-than-straight financial adviser who loathed even henna tattoos and would rub off any I had. 

When that collapsed, I gathered my courage and had my nose pierced. I loved it. As soon as I could I had a nose stud popped in and contrary to the finger wagging, it never got in the way of any employment I've pursued. 

Fast-forward sixteen years: it's now about a year since my melt-down and what I call my mid-life crisis. Last October, I had my first tattoo. I did write about it, but never posted pics. Well, here it is. Boy came with me to have it done, I'm so glad he did. I was so nervous. I ended up having it in two stages, the first was the outline. As time went on, it felt unfinished to me. In May, I had the shading done and I went by myself for that one. 
A symbol of female divinity and strength
I've been thinking about how to mark the anniversary of my mid-life crisis and I had been considering a small phoenix to go on my inner right arm. After all, I have a history of rising from the ashes. 

It never ceases to amaze me how life unfolds. About ten days ago, Dave tells me Strangers at Large were booked to do the Norwich Body Art Festival.

The weekend was brilliant. My coffee-making skills are steadily improving and the venue was awesome. Dave kept telling me not to get used to it! We weren't in a field getting soaked or baked, with portaloos flushing sticky blue and access to running water in an actual kitchen! Total bliss, in fact. 

As soon as we set up on Saturday, I had a walk around and approached a tattoo artist with the design I'd found on the internet. He looked at me and it, and then sat me down. His name is Terangitu Netana and he is a traditional Maori tattoo artist. We talked about my heritage, where I am now, what I am trying to achieve, where I want to be in the future and what the tattoo would represent for me. He showed me the image of what he had in mind and then talked me through the design and what each aspect of the strokes, what they meant, where it fit in the Maori tradition. We agreed that I'd come and have it done first thing, so Dave wasn't left to fend for himself.

I woke up in the middle of the night and thought things through. The design was beautiful, but it wasn't from my culture. I've got fairly strident opinions on cultural appropriation that are informed from growing up in a former British colony and living over here in jolly old England. I thought about the aspects of the design and how appropriate they are to my creative journey. The more I time I spent with it, the more right it seemed. In the end, I concluded that with my mixed race heritage, the very complicated family history and the fact I moved from Trinidad to the UK, mean I don't belong anywhere; I straddle too many cultures. Therefore, I belong everywhere. I chose where I want to belong.

I didn't want this design when I started considering my second tattoo, I didn't know it was even possible. Life and the way the weekend unfolded, made it happen and I am so very glad it did. 

In the twelve months of profound insights and experiences, this touched my soul. I was tattooed with prayers and song, there was laughter and friendship and an exchange of history. The tattoo I now have, I look upon as a gift. 

This is a kotuku, the white heron. She is a shy bird, inconspicuous until she spreads her wings, it's only then her size is truly known. Within the design, there are references to the gaining and passing on of traditional and ancient knowledge. She belongs to no one, only herself. She is a creature of beauty, grace, wind, water and solitude. 


And this is my tattoo. I have a lot to live up to. 


Comments

  1. Both tattoos are rather lovely. I like fairly modest tattoos but I don't get the really massive ones - let alone whole-body tattoos! I like the way he talked you through the whole personal context of the tattoo and what it would mean to you. And I like the symbolism of the white heron - shy, inconspicuous and belonging to no one but herself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you.

      It was a meaningful experience.

      Even though I'm not known for being shy and retiring... ;)

      Delete
  2. that's really beautiful

    ReplyDelete
  3. Both are very lovely. Excellent choices. I also admire that you thoughtfully worked out the culture and heritage aspects as well. These are very special.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't want to be that girl with "water" on her bicep! :)

      Or "idiot"....!

      What was funny, the artist who did my Goddess for me, came and saw Terangitu while I was being done. They obviously knew each other well. Later, we had a hug. She was pleased I'd had the kotuku done.

      Delete
  4. That is frickin' sweet. Love the process behind it too, the thoughts, the feelings, the realisations. Wonderful! xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I undertook both very seriously.

      I'm somewhat gobsmacked at some people who have tatts done, who just want it to be pretty, or get drunk and have it done.

      The artists at the festival did a roaring trade in cover-ups.

      Delete
  5. I love that heron tattoo - It's so intricate and beautiful!

    By the way, did you know that you have a Minion groping your boobs?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you.

      It's not a Minion. I don't possess anything other than DVDs that have Minions.

      Delete
  6. Ach the times are achanging. In earlier days one would down the twelveth pint and awake with the regiment's insignia on the forearm - golden days of bloody innocence !

    Nice bird by the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks very much.

      Nowadays, a tattoo artist won't do anything with someone who's drunk.

      Delete
  7. Kotuku! How lovely. If I ever did have a tattoo (moko) I think I'd like a small, stylised kiwi.And then I remember that I am not blood-Maori, just marriage -related.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes, this is your land.

      I'm sure if you wanted it, you could find an artist who would be able to make the bridge between the cultures, referencing both with respect.

      Delete
  8. Yes, a well thought through design and tattoo.
    I'd go for a calligraphy tattoo... but not designed by me... it'll probably take me the next 20 years to decide on what I want it to say.
    Sx

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it and following your train of thought. Both of your tattoos are fantastic, I love the new one. I had my foot done on what would have been the due date of my first baby. I feel like he's always with me now and love looking at it (to the point I walk into things). I'm keen to get more but waiting for the right ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks lovely.

      I think that's the thing, you'll know when the time is right and the right design comes along.

      :-)

      Delete
  10. The tattoo is beautiful...

    ReplyDelete

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