Ink

I wanted a tattoo. I wanted my mother’s approval. I could only have one.

My family had come up to Boston for my college graduation. I had just spent half an hour reading in the Public Garden, while my parents, aunt, and grandfather caught a cab from the airport to their hotel. I walked across Boylston Street and met them. We went out for dinner, and then my grandfather went to bed. The rest of us sat in my parents’ room and caught up. “Oh,” I said, “so I’m thinking of getting a tattoo.”

There is no metaphor that can fully capture what followed.

What?” my mother screeched, drawing out the word, using it to fill the time necessary for her to wrap her mind around what I had just said.

“Tors, don’t,” my dad said. “Those things are scary. And I don’t mean how they look, but what you could catch from getting one.”

“If you get one,” my aunt warned, “you’ll never be able to get an epidural when you have kids.”

“That’s just if you get it on your spine,” I said to her.

“No, it’s not just for that,” my aunt insisted. “Look it up!”

And then, my mother finally caught up with the rest of us. “Those are signs of the mafia!” she screamed. “Those are signs of the slave trade! If you ever get a tattoo, that’s it! You’ll be off the payroll for the rest of your life! No more financial help!”

I do not remember her ever speaking to me this way.

“I’m just joking,” I said quickly, desperate to regain the peace. The calm returned instantly.

Chapter 1: My mom

My mother moved to the United States in December 1971. She was eight years old at the time, and the second oldest of four girls. For those first eight years of her life, she grew up under a military government. Although the family had lived well in South Korea, there was a lack of opportunity, especially for the children, so my grandparents decided to move everyone here.

When they first arrived in Virginia, they had little except each other. As a family, they were, and still are, fiercely loyal and fiercely proud. They worked hard and stuck together. My grandpa had a degree in engineering when he came over, but he had to start as a construction worker because no one else would hire him. He eventually worked his way up through a company and was mentored by his boss, who helped him break away and start his own construction company. My mom has often told me that my grandpa would drill the kids in their multiplication tables every morning before school, so that they could be the best.

My mom was always top in everything. I remember, when I was in lower school, she was still frustrated that a boy had once beaten her for the athletics department award. But other than that, she was always the top: best student, best athlete, lead in musicals, and not only the cheerleading captain, but also the top of the pyramid (she was the smallest person in the squad).

In high school, my mom started working a few days a week at the front desk of my grandpa’s company, to help him out. She stayed close to home for college and, after graduating, for work. She worked at a bank right out of college, but eventually switched over to work full-time for my grandpa. When she was pregnant with me, almost to term, she got three speeding tickets because she made the same illegal turn while driving to work three different times. The company had been especially busy that month, and she wasn’t going to drop everything just because of a pregnancy that nearly doubled her body weight (over the course of a pregnancy, she went from 95 to 165 pounds). She was always the Good Daughter, even now — she’s the one who always takes my grandpa to his doctor’s appointments.

Growing up, my mother Americanized very quickly. She speaks perfect English, sometimes even with a faint Maryland accent (imagine a slightly longer, nasal, British pronunciation of ‘o’s). She doesn’t cook Korean food, and she doesn’t read Korean. My father once likened her to Audrey Hepburn, because my mother is similarly petite and elegant and energetic.

But there are aspects of her culture and upbringing that she cannot (and, I suspect, does not want to) shake. She was raised Catholic, and although she no longer goes to church, I once heard her praying to St. Anthony when she lost something. She speaks to her family in Korean when she wants to discuss something and doesn’t want my dad or me to understand. She is happiest when eating Korean food, especially when she’s sick, which is a trait that she has passed on to me. And after she and my father got engaged, she twice got worried that they weren’t a good fit.

The first time was when my dad gave her a pair of slippers as a gift. In Korea, when you give your partner a pair of shoes, it means you want them to leave. The second time was when a fortuneteller friend of my grandmother’s stopped by to visit my grandma. The fortuneteller told my mom that her marriage would only work out if her husband had two scars. My mom immediately called my dad to double check how many scars he had. At first, he only mentioned one. My mother grew agitated until he remembered that he had a second one, from an old injury. They have now been together for almost 30 years.

Chapter 2: My dad

My dad was introduced to my mom by his squash partner, which is maybe the whitest meet-cute that I’ve ever heard. My dad grew up in Maryland, and had lived all over the country before eventually settling back in D.C. He and my mom belonged to the same health club, and my dad’s squash partner was a friend of my mom’s brother-in-law.

My dad is seven years older than my mom, and he grew up very differently. His parents were both East Coast liberals and writers, and my dad and his sisters grew up getting quizzed on SAT vocabulary words at the dinner table. It’s easy to wonder why my parents work together. Where my mom is loud and outgoing, my dad is a little more quiet and reserved. Put my mom in the middle of any situation, and she will have made two new friends within ten minutes. My dad will hold back. He’s perfectly happy not going out at all, while my mom goes out with friends.

But as I get older, I realize that that’s kind of the point. My parents are good together because they are good on their own. My dad recently told me that they were at a party together, and a man they had met several times before asked them what his relationship was with my mom.

“We’re married,” my dad told him. “We have a 23-year-old daughter.”

“I never would have guessed,” the man told him. “You two don’t act like you’re a couple.”

Put them in a party, and my parents are perfectly happy to wander off into completely different rooms and talk to the people who interest them individually. But my dad always knows he can find my mom by following the sound of her laugh.

My parents also think the same. They are both scientifically minded, and they studied numbers-related fields in college. My mom studied finance, and my dad studied economics. They work well together and agree on most things. The biggest difference in their respective approaches to life has been raising me. I think I turned out okay, but there has been a weird push-and-pull all my life between my two ethnicities. They both encourage independence, but my mom only up to a point.

When I first moved to Boston for college, my dad figured he would fly up with me and help me move in. It would be quick and easy and painless.

Not so much.

My mother, my grandpa, my aunt, and two of my cousins all came up as well to make sure I got a proper send-off. I was going away, but not without a final reminder of what I would always go back to.

Chapter 3: Me

I’m an only child, and my mother and I have always been close. I slept in my parents’ bed with them until I was five years old and simply got too big.

My mom never wanted me to have the same kind of life that she did, where she stayed close to home. Asian cultures are steeped in Buddhist and Confucian traditions, which still have a lot of sway over how people think. There’s still a lot of importance put on honoring and submitting to your elders.

“The idea of striking out or wanting independence is a lot less common in Asian cultures,” said Dr. Esther Kim, a psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent and family relationships. She has also done a lot of Korean-American cross-cultural work. “Kids used to live with their parents until they got married. In-laws might live with the son’s family. And there was the expectation that kids will take care of their parents when they get older. But in Western culture, when you turn 18, you’re out of the house. You’re your own person, so there’s an ability [on the parents’ part] to let go.”

My mom always encouraged me to go farther, faster, harder. She pushed me to tears in high school, not out of cruelty, but because she felt I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. I pushed her to tears right back; I am nothing if not her daughter. Our compatibility and our clashing are natural. We are both stubborn and loud. We are quick to judge or jump to the worst conclusion. And we stick by the people we care about, no questions asked.

Still, she fully supported my decision not to apply to any colleges in Maryland, Virginia, or D.C., saying I should go experience life elsewhere. She encouraged me to go abroad for a full year, and she pushes me to go new places and to try new things. She and I grew much closer when I went to college. The biggest disagreement we had was when I chose to study English and French.

“Are you sure you don’t want to study biology?” my mom asked me when I told her I had declared my major.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said.

“Ok. It’s your life, I guess.”

“Across all cultures, people in their late teens, early twenties are closer to their parents,” said Dr. Kim. “They involve their parents in a lot more minute decisions. A culture based on honoring people based on their age or seniority level is about obedience. That doesn’t really foster openness or communication. But the changing family dynamic within Asian culture means that kids are comfortable enough to talk about ‘taboo’ topics, like tattoos, with their parents.”

I began thinking about getting a tattoo my senior year of college. I wanted to get an image of the pilot wings logo from the shop where I paraglide. I used to be scared of heights, but went paragliding on a dare from my mother. I was addicted after that first flight, and the constant flying cured my acrophobia. Paragliding is all mine, and to me, those wings are a symbol of my potential. So when I began considering tattooing those wings on my ribcage, it felt only natural to include my mom in the discussion.

I didn’t have to include her. I was 22 at the time, presumably past the point of needing to ask permission to do things. But Dr. Kim also pointed out that the Asian parenting style is one that tends to elicit guilt at the prospect — or threat — of breaking away from the family. Even with my dad’s Western influence tempering the way my mom raised me, there had been no Western-style ceremonial departure once I turned 18 and left home.

An unspoken part of the deal of my going away is access. My mother reserves the right to judge all of my choices, even if she acknowledges that it’s my choices, my life.

I let her. At least, perhaps, until now.

“In one sense, you want to seek approval from your parents,” Dr. Kim said. “You’re trying to absolve the feeling of guilt.”

Chapter 4: Those who have gone before me

Tattoos originated during the Ice Age and have always been an indicator of status or spiritual protection. Ancient Greeks and Romans used tattoos to send secret messages by tattooing the information on the shaved head of a slave, and then sending the slave to “deliver” the message once his hair had grown back sufficiently. They would also tattoo special images onto spies, so that a spy in the field could easily identify an ally. Asians and Polynesians used tattoos to indicate their trade, or their social and marital status, or to ward off bad luck. Early Britons would tattoo their family crests onto their bodies. Americans (Mayans, Incans, and Aztecs) used tattoos as a part of their rituals.

In Japan, tattoos developed into a method for marking criminals, prisoners of war, or slaves. In time, tattoos soon became associated with crime, and low social status. The stigma was further reinforced after World War II, when the emperor outlawed tattooing in an effort to improve Japan’s reputation abroad. This criminal connotation is said to have led to the yakuza’s adoption of tattoos — bold, colorful, and sometimes full-bodied. Although the yakuza affiliation made tattoos seem cooler, the practice was still taboo. And tattoos often cause trouble today, as people with tattoos, whether or not they’re Japanese, aren’t allowed in onsens (the hot springs).

Koreans hate the Japanese, bitterly. Japan’s rapacious 35-year occupation has left Koreans with a deep sense of resentment. Older Koreans, who can still recall the humiliation of the occupation, cannot look past the yakuza connotation.

But had things changed for Koreans? Tattooing couldn’t be a body modification problem, given that plastic surgery is one of the biggest industries in South Korea. But getting, or giving, a tattoo is essentially illegal. In order to legally become a tattoo artist, you have to get a medical license. As a result, there’s a whole underground tattoo culture and network in Seoul. They even hosts conventions, though the police often shut these down.

But what about Asian kids here? People like me, who had at least one — in my case very powerful and determined — Asian parent. Surely, I wasn’t the only one among them who had clashed with her parents (okay, her mom) over a tattoo. I began looking in New York for a Korean tattoo artist, someone who could talk to me about the tattoo culture in the Korean community. Google lead me to Kevin Jang, the head tattoo artist at Blackfish Tattoo in Midtown. It was his Yelp page that convinced me he would be a good place to start. Not only did he have overwhelmingly positive reviews, but also all the photos of his work showed that he was particularly skilled at traditional Korean designs.

Kevin is tall and powerfully built, and partial to fitted T-shirts that expose his heavily tattooed arms. His studio, a small office in the corner of the shop, is dark, and the walls are covered with ink sketches of skeletons. I sat on a black leatherette bench along the wall, at eye level with a shelf crammed with skulls — animal, human, and glass (the glass ones were bottles of vodka). He has been a tattoo artist for 20 years.

I felt intensely awkward and out of place, but Kevin quickly put me at ease. He had a client in the chair, and he continued to work on the man as he chatted away with me.

“Tattoos are a part of fashion,” said Kevin. “They’re growing in popularity, not just with Koreans. They’re a way for people to show who they are, and to show their style.”

Korean kids my age are growing used to tattoos. Mainstream Korean culture and globalization have normalized it, between the heavily inked K-pop stars and international athletes, so younger generations have come to view tattoos in a positive, or at least neutral, light. It’s something cool to do now. Tattoos don’t have the same historic baggage as they do for older people.

All of Kevin’s tattoos seem personally meaningful. He has (among his many others) a portrait of his daughter as a toddler, a heart that is also an “ohm” character if you look at it from a different angle, and a skull. I asked Kevin what his family thought of his tattoos.

“They want me to cover up when I go out in public,” he said. “But my dad is more proud because I’m successful. If I had a lot of tattoos, but no job, he’d say, ‘What a loser!’ But whatever I do, they can’t touch me. It’s my body.”

I left, wishing I had Kevin’s brazen confidence. Why did I feel like I had to get permission from my parents? The hypothetical tattoo would be on my ribcage, near my armpit. It would be easy to hide from them.

Instead, two weeks later, I was back, accidentally interrupting his lunch break.

“Do Asian kids tend to get tattoos they can easily hide?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” said Kevin. “I’ve had a couple kids who come in and say, ‘If my parents find out, they’re going to kill me, kick me out!’ But kids are young. They want to know something unknown. They want a new experience, even though it makes them worry so much.”

Kevin believed it was best for parents and their children to talk, so that kids don’t feel so lonely in their decision anymore. When I explained my personal debate about getting a tattoo, he told me that I should just do it.

“You need to see the world clearly, so you can make your own decisions,” he said. “Don’t let your view be narrowed by your parents.”

A tattoo is a statement. It asks the world to understand who you are. But I needed to understand why people felt the need to ask that.

I went back to Kevin’s Yelp page and started going through the comments. I picked clients of his who were Asian and sent them messages through Yelp Messenger. I hoped someone would look past the creepiness and respond to me.

The first to reach out was Miylah, a Korean woman from Rego Park, New York. Miylah, 35, is an artist, working towards getting her bachelor’s in graphic design. She also paints, draws, and sculpts. She has several tattoos, though the one she got from Kevin is a cherry blossom branch going down her rib cage. She also has her initial “M” on her wrist, the Chinese character for “dream” on her lower back, peacock feathers on her lower back, the Chinese character for “beautiful” on her hip, two leaves on her hip, and her name (Miriam) in Hebrew on her ribs.

“I chose certain [tattoos] that ‘spoke’ to me,” said Miylah. “I feel they all represent who I am.” She got her first tattoo at age 17, in Dallas. To her, tattoos are beautiful. They’re an art form, and she views them as an accessory. They’re just decoration for her body.

Her parents, who found out about her tattoos by accident, were not pleased. “My parents hate tattoos, but I got them anyway,” said Miylah. “I wouldn’t want to tell them for the mere fact that they worry and nag.”

Her parents emigrated from Korea when they were in their mid-twenties, in the mid-1970s. They are religious people who believe that women should always behave like proper ladies: no tattoos or piercings, no revealing clothing or sex before marriage. For them, getting a tattoo is like putting graffiti on a church. “God gave us our bodies, so we should treat them with respect,” she said. She and her parents don’t really talk about her tattoos anymore.

Then there was Hubert, who told me that he and his parents talked openly about his tattoo, even though it covers the entirety of his back. Hubert, 27, is a Chinese man from Brooklyn. His parents came over from Hong Kong as teenagers in the mid-70s. They Americanized pretty thoroughly, and though they tried to teach Hubert about his culture growing up, he stubbornly refused anything unfamiliar (meaning, not typically American). He thinks they figured he would come to appreciate it on his own, even though he initially rejected it as a teenager.

They were right. When he got to college, he started dating a “proud Korean girl,” who encouraged him to take an Asian history class and learn more about his culture. He started to appreciate where he came from, and after college, he traveled to China. In Hong Kong, he found the neighborhood where his parents grew up. He also saw the statue of the buddha Tian Tan while there, on Lantau Island. “The tattoo is a symbol of me finally and proudly accepting myself for who I am,” he said.

His tattoo is done entirely in black ink, and it depicts a dragon encircling and guarding the buddha Tian Tan. The dragon guards the buddha and, by extension, Hubert’s sense of tranquility. His parents’ only stipulations were that the tattoo couldn’t limit his job prospects, and that he had to pay for it himself.

Hubert grew up idolizing boxers and martial artists, many of whom have tattoos. As with them, his tattoo is a cultural statement: the Chinese dragon, as well as the swagger that comes from growing up in Brooklyn.

“Aside from the aesthetics, the idea of something so bold and permanent on one’s body was appealing because it shows that you’re proud of that ink and what it represents,” he said. “This might sound weird, but the process of getting a tattoo is appealing as well. It’s a good metaphor for life. Before you get inked, you are nervous but excited. Through the process, it’s painful, but in the end something beautiful is in its place. I hope everything in life turns out that way. You suffer a little, but in the end it’s worth it.”

Jia, on the other hand, has four tattoos, each of which speak to a struggle that she has overcome. Jia, 24, has lived in Manhattan for about two and a half years. She got her first tattoo at Blackfish when she first moved to the city. It’s an excerpt from Psalm 8, on her left shoulder blade: “The works of your fingers, the moon and the stars.” The psalmist marvels at how God created the entire universe, but still loves and cares for humans individually and intimately.

“I got this tattoo during a particularly difficult transitional time from the old college and suburban bubble to adulthood and the ruthless nature of this particular city,” she explained, adding that the passage “reminded me that, despite the trials I was going through, I was deeply loved.”

She went on to describe her three other tattoos to me. First, the diamond on her wrist came after a long period of self-doubt and self-hatred. While on a church retreat, her pastor instructed the group to pray for the person next to them, even if they were strangers. The woman next to Jia started praying and said she had had a vision of a beach full of plain rocks, but with a bright diamond in the middle.

Immediately after the retreat, Jia scheduled an appointment with Kevin to get a diamond tattooed on her wrist. That way, she said, “I would be able to look at it every day and be reminded of God’s love for me despite my shortcomings.”

Next, she told me she had the Chinese character for her name tattooed on the back of her neck. “Jia” means “good,” as in “good vs. evil.” Jia and her mother share this character in their Chinese names. She says her parents named her “Jia” in the hope that she would become someone good. “It was quite beautiful for my mother to place that sort of hope in me from Day One, even when I struggled to find it myself,” she once told a friend, who replied that she should get the character tattooed on the back of her neck, so that she would “always have something good on the back of [her] mind.” Jia made her next appointment at Blackfish shortly thereafter.

Finally, she has a paper crane behind her right ear, inspired by the true story Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. The story is about Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who lived in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing. When Sadako was 12, she developed leukemia as a result of the radiation. While in the hospital, Sadako began folding origami cranes, because there is a Japanese legend that says that whoever can create a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish. Her wish was to live, but she died before she could complete the cranes.

As it happens, my mother gave me a copy of that book when I was young. It’s a short book, but it took me several tries to get through the whole thing, because I would get so choked up reading it.

“The paper crane is a symbol of hope and peace in times of turmoil,” Jia explained. “This past year was definitely a huge challenge, and while at times it felt like there was nothing left to hope for, there was still that small hope that things would turn around for the better. Everything did turn around for the better, but I know that there are still hard times to come. The little paper crane is to remind myself not to lose hope.”

Despite the significance of Jia’s tattoos, her parents were not fans at first. They had come here in the late ’80s and met in grad school, when they were both in their thirties. Her mother cooks Chinese food, and they speak mostly Mandarin at home. As a family, they celebrate the Chinese holidays, and Jia and her brother went to Chinese school every Saturday until they reached high school. But they also celebrated American holidays such as Christmas, and Jia grew up in a mainly Caucasian community.

When she got her first tattoo, she casually asked her parents their opinion of tattoos. “They said they thought they were unsightly, and that people with tattoos are degenerates,” she said. She then showed her tattoo to them. Though her parents were surprised, they also said that hers looked very pretty.

She decided to tell her parents after the fact, because she knew they’d find out eventually. But she didn’t want to ask permission, because she knew they’d say no. Since she had made up her mind to get the tattoo, she didn’t want it to come off as simple rebellion.

“Showing them after the fact sort of softens the blow and helps them to realize that this is entirely my own decision to make, not theirs,” she said. “Interestingly enough, one of the questions I get asked the most is, ‘But what about your wedding day?’ I hope that on that day, my husband is marrying me for everything that I am — my strengths, my flaws, my passions, my stories, and most certainly my tats. I hope that when I look back on my wedding photos that I look like myself, and not some idealized version of who I am. So I don’t see how the tattoos would even be a problem.”

Still, she suspects that, because her tattoos are small, inconspicuous, and easy to conceal, her parents are more accepting. “If I got something like a sleeve,” she said, “I think I’d be in hot water.”

Like Jia, Min, a 22-year-old Korean from Flushing, knew he would face resistance from his parents if he had a full-sleeve tattoo. So he opted for two half-sleeves.

I met Min when he was at Blackfish to get his second tattoo. We talked before his appointment, and during the breaks in the three hours of tattooing.

Min’s first tattoo is a half-sleeve of images that represent New York: a rat, an apple, the 7 Train, and the Statue of Liberty wearing an American flag bandana. The tattoo is done in a blocky, lightly shaded, graffiti-like style. He went to Kevin to get a second half-sleeve on his other arm, this time of traditionally Korean images. Min wanted tattoos that represent who he is as a person, but he also wanted something unique, and not just the usual dragon or koi fish.

He told me that he hid his first tattoo from his Korean immigrant parents for a couple months, but “something inside me didn’t feel right, not telling my parents.” Eventually, he showed it to them, and they were upset — more, he suspects, because they weren’t involved in the process than with the tattoo itself. When he decided to get his second one, he told them.

He opened by saying, “I need to tell you something.” At first they asked if he was engaged, or if he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. When he told them he was getting a second tattoo, they were surprisingly accepting of his decision. He explained that they don’t want him to get anything that will hurt his job prospects, like a full sleeve that he can’t hide or a face tattoo. Since he works at a car dealership and wears a suit every day, he can easily hide his tattoos.

Chapter 5: My case to my mom

My mom is worried that getting a tattoo will brand me. I’ll be marked, cast out, unemployable, and ostracized. And given the kind of tattoo culture in which she grew up, I can’t blame her for thinking that.

As Jia said, I’ve been afforded an upbringing and a life that allows me to be open and liberal with my parents and my choices. Unlike my mother’s childhood, I grew up surrounded by books and imaginary friends. It was only natural that I would take a circuitous, liberal arts route in my life, even as my mom has held fast to her old-world beliefs and prejudices.

She’s nervous that I don’t have a job with an easily defined career track; she worries what people think when they see you or look at your academic pedigree. A tattoo would forever change the way people view me, her reasoning goes, and not necessarily in a positive way.

There is also something about a tattoo that transcends the practical or cultural: a tattoo would create distance between the two of us, and that is something I know she fears.

In her mind, a tattoo could undermine all the lessons about success and achievement that she has worked so hard and so long to instill in me. She would be unable to help me if I chose to compromise all I might accomplish by getting a tattoo. A tattoo would be a rejection of not just her values, but of her. Yet, my decision has, if anything, brought me closer to her. It has made me feel not only more Asian, but also more like my mother.

I’ve never really felt “Asian.” Yet as I’ve gotten older, my ethnicity started to become more prominent and important. While it has never compelled me to travel to Korea, it increasingly feeds a sense of who I am.

It was not always this way. When I was born, my parents joke that my grandma actually asked them, “Are you sure she’s ours? Because that’s not an Asian baby.” I’ve always felt like a little bit of an outsider in my own family. I’m at least five inches taller than all of the women, and I look extremely white.

Similarly, while talking to Min at Blackfish, I showed him a recent photo of my younger cousins and me. He said, “Yeah, when I see you in person, you’re obviously half-Asian. But when I look at that photo, it’s like, ‘What’s that white girl doing in there?’”

But lately, I’ve found myself craving Korean food. After looking into tattoos and talking with Dr. Kim, I have a better understanding of both the Asian and biracial influences on certain perspectives that I have. And more and more often, I’ve been told that I look, act, and sound just like my mom.

I appreciate that my mom is worried about my future, especially as I move away from her to work in an uncertain field. I understand why she sees a tattoo as an insurmountable barrier between us. If I went into the world, alone and tattooed, she would no longer be able to protect me.

But how could she ever be scared of losing me when I am so undeniably hers?

Chapter 6: My decision

I have begun to wonder if I really need a tattoo.

I have spoken with people, peers in many ways, whose tattoos were rooted in a deep and powerful need to express themselves. And while I told myself that I wanted a tattoo for the same reason, I found myself questioning whether that desire ran deep enough to be considered a need.

I will concede that the thought of getting a tattoo scares me — I flinched just watching Min get inked by Kevin.

I know enough to know how to pick my battles. A tattoo feels ever less like a worthy one.

I am not good at rebellion, and I am not always brave. I’m bad with spontaneity, and I have trouble shaking my mother’s influence. But perhaps, given who I am, how I was raised, and how much that has formed me, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

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