Last week, I got my first tattoo. It’s a Sherlock Holmes tattoo on my right forearm.
I’ve been wanting a tattoo for seven or eight years now. When I finally decided to get it, I knew I wanted something to do with Sherlock Holmes. My artist (shout out to Gabi at Apocalypse Tattoo) helped me realize it and actually elevated it — originally I wanted a black and white tattoo, but she suggested color, and it’s so much better as a result.
I love my tattoo. I love that so many people have said “Yeah, that’s very you.” So naturally, I’m thinking about my next one.
I’ve been building a private notebook of tattoo ideas, which is growing rapidly with random pictures and images and notes. For a while I wanted to theme my tattoos between “story” and “game.” Because I’m a narrative designer, you see, and my work is “story games.” Of course, I also love stories and games, so it seemed like a logical next step.
But there are other things that happened in my life that I wanted to commemorate, like the time I lived in Maynooth, Ireland. Of all the tattoo ideas I’ve had, the Irish harp has been at the top of my list. So how does that fit into the pattern?
One of my inspirations for getting a tattoo was Anthony Bourdain. Reading up on his tattoos, I learned that he got them for the same reason as why I was considering the Irish harp: to commemorate events in his life in a way that a camera couldn’t. He didn’t have a plan for his body, and in fact tended to treat it as an afterthought. In an interview with Maxim, he said “It’s a selfish, personal thing. I jokingly say, ‘I’m driving an old car. It’s filled with dents. One more dent ain’t gonna make it any worse than this.’” And with all my medical problems (and the fact that I’m over 40), I certainly feel the old car analogy.
All of this thought has been forcing me to think about the question “So who am I?” And it turns out, that’s a harder question to answer than I thought.
The thing that I’m finding the most compelling about getting a tattoo is that this has to be a collaboration. Yes, I get to decide on the artist and the tattoo, but I’ve learned from experience that trusting the artist and giving them some room to enjoy the design brings better results. When I gave Gabi some firm suggestions and boundaries but let her come up with a design, it was wonderful, and the four-hour sitting flew by. Other artists wandered into the room to see how it was going, asking questions about it. I am both her canvas and her inspiration.
So, in a way, I’m baring my soul to a relative stranger. I don’t have to give them my entire life story, but the more I understand why I’m getting it, the better the final design will be. Which requires me to understand why I’m getting it. Which requires me to understand myself better.
The past week of thinking of new designs has led me to have a lot more self-reflection than I’ve done in quite a while. It’s uncovered some darker parts of my soul which I have to unpack a bit, while reminding me of parts of my life that I haven’t explored in a while.
That loops back to my earlier thought. My first instinct was to base my tattoos on my job because my life has basically been my job for a couple of years now. I have more to offer the world than stories and games. Both will be a huge part of my life, but they’re not all my life. It’s got me thinking that I need to reignite the parts of my life I’ve been neglecting, and stop cramming every part of my life into my job.
All because I got a tattoo.