How to get a regret-free literary tattoo — Part 3: No regrets.
So, in Part One I talked about preparing yourself, and in Part Two, how to pick a design that’s right for you. However, one of the trickiest things about getting a tattoo is reconciling yourself with the fact that this is for life (unless you have £££ for surgery!). Here are a few pointers to make sure you have no regrets!
1. Pick a design that means something…
I discussed the potential problems behind a ‘passing phase’ tattoo (like the recent Maori tribal craze, or in more literary terms, a Harry Potter homage, for example) in Part Two, but when I say “means something,” I’m talking about something beyond “a design you won’t be embarrassed by when you’re 40.” The fact is, you can make any design mean something to you — and that’s the secret to living life as a tattooed person without regrets. Rather than just picking something you like on an aesthetic level, or something that reflects an element of your persona right now, it helps to attach a deeper meaning. All my tattoos so far have marked major events in my life: getting a first for my undergrad dissertation (actually, I did one of those ‘I’ll eat my hat’ things, saying that if I got a first I’d go and get a tattoo, thinking I never would. Duh.), graduating from my MA, etc. Whenever I look at my tattoos (see point 4), I look back at those events — it’s a lasting reminder of something cool, which means it’ll be a lot harder for negative connotations to creep in, I think. Tattooing something that has been really significant in your life (rather than just something you like) also adds meaning — RT Press poet Eric Hamilton recently had this design from Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons tattooed on himself… not the greatest book as Eric himself freely admits, but one his cellmate in jail gave to him; the tattoo is a commemoration of that time, that person. Basically, it doesn’t matter what meaning you attach to your ink, just that, chances are, you’ll be a lot less likely to regret it later if it does mean something, rather than just being a whim or a reflection of your current tastes and ideas.
2. …but don’t get inked on the rebound!
So like I say, getting a tattoo to recognise a significant event or person is a great idea… but make sure the event or the person has and always will have positive connotations for you. A lot of people get tattooed when they come out of a relationship — I suppose it feels like one of those ‘new start’ things, like buying a whole new wardrobe or shaving your head. However, getting tattooed is far more permanent, and if you do it when you’re feeling bitter or fragile, chances are you’ll regret it later. Tattoos that commemorate negative happenings can be fine, but all too often your ink becomes a symbol of something you later realise you’d rather forget, when it’s associated with something like a death, a personal failure, the end of a relationship. One of my golden tattooing rules (because yes, I am planning to have more, no matter how much my mother sighs about it!) is that I’ll never get a tattoo that marks a love interest or relationship — I’ve heard far too many horror stories. Just look at Johnny Depp, who famously had to change “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever” (er, yep…) when he and Ms Ryder divorced. I know we’re talking about literary stuff, so how about this: you may love and adore that e.e. cummings quote from your last Valentine’s card now (cummings is VERY trendy for tattoos at the moment by the way!), but will the two of you always be head-over-heels in love?
3. Build your design into your life.
I mean it: get your design down on paper, perfect it, and then make sure you look at it every single day. Pin it up next to your bed, doodle it in margins, draw a ‘first draft’ on your skin with Sharpie marker, show it to your friends. Do this for a good while — I suggest months, particularly if it’s your first tattoo, and I’d say the bigger the design, the longer the time you should ponder. If you can look at your chosen design every single day for six months without getting sick of it, that’s a good sign. I thought about my first tattoo design for literally years and years — yes, partly because I was just chicken about getting it done — but I’m glad I did. I’ve had other designs which, at the time of devising them, I was positive I wanted to have inked… now I am grateful every single day that I didn’t actually go out and get them done there and then, but waited and thought about it, and the phase passed! If you’re serious about getting your first ink, you really should be thinking long and hard about it. Maybe less so for future tattoos, but the first one is a biggie.
4. Realise that it’s not that big a deal.
OK, after the first three points this seems contradictory, but actually, I think tattoos are less regrettable than most people think. Yes, I know a few people who’ve regretted their ink, but usually those people have learned from the mistake, and either learned to embrace their misguided tattoo as a symbol of their youthful zeal (or the like!), or designed themselves a kick-ass cover-up. I don’t know a single person who’s regretted a tattoo so much that they’ve had to fork out to laser it off. Non-tattooed people see this as a very big barrier, and I think it’s the main reason a lot of people decide not to be inked. However, what the uninitiated don’t realise is that actually, after a while (and this sounds weird, but go with it) you stop seeing your tattoos. OK, I am not head-to-foot covered, but The Boy, whose whole arms are pretty well-illustrated, says the same thing. In truth, you don’t have to look at this image you’ve chosen every single day of your life… it just becomes another physical feature, like your eye colour or a birthmark or the shape of your toes. Chances are you won’t regret it because you won’t notice it after a while… other people will, and I think actually, that’s the thing to take into consideration. How will other people react to you when you’re tattooed… and will you always be happy for them to react in that way?
5. Try one of two of these ideas before you get inked to further banish regret!
Turn your tattoo design into a personal “tag,” like a graffiti artist — obviously this is easier if your design is relatively small or relatively simple. Doodle your tattoo on the front of your notebook, put it on the head of your letters or the corner of your email signature. Make it your Facebook avatar — use it as a kind of personal logo. Firstly, if you can do this without getting sick of it, that’s a good sign. Secondly, it may become such a part of your identity that you can’t not get it inked! // Make a list of the pros and cons of being tattooed… or if you’re already tattooed, of having this particular tattoo. Is it controversial? In a very visible place? Marking something important to you? Are these pros or cons, or both? Writing it down will make it more structured and help you make a decision. // Draw your tattoo on yourself. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it makes sense! OK, you may not be any kind of tattoo artist (if you have a really unsteady hand, get a friend to do it for you!), but it’s a representation of what your ink will look like ‘on’, which can be important… like clothes, tattoos can look very different on your skin than they do on the hanger, as it were. Make sure you use non-toxic ink (Sharpies are good and come highly recommended by tattoo artists, in fact), and that it’ll wash off relatively easily! // Make a few alternative designs. It might just be a tweak here and there that makes them different, but this is for life, so you need to get the right one. Try them all out in the ways suggested above. Do a straw poll — ask your friends and family what they reckon. Take suggestions on board — yes, it’s your tattoo and very personal but sometimes a “have you thought about…?” = striking gold.
Are you tattooed, in a literary way or otherwise? Do you have a tattoo you regret, other suggestions to banish negative feelings? You know where the comments box is! Part IV… soon!