It has been over five years since my last tattoo. My upper arms, and one small part of my left forearm, as well as most of my back, are inked. Over the past months I'd been feeling a desire to have a larger piece done on my right forearm. I like timeless tattoos - nothing contemporary or related to pop culture in any way. No bright colors. I hesitate to use the term "tribal" but that is the best general description for the style of art that I prefer.
On my back I have a listing of numbers which represent the birthdates of close family members. I have a mandorla, a stick bird from a centuries-old Sami drum, and the names of my older kids written out in the Cherokee syllabary. Both of my upper arms are covered in black bands that I designed based on the tradition of Indonesian women tattooing their hands, arms, and shoulders, often connected to major life events (I got these after my husband and I married - and he had Celtic crosses done on his forearms for the same reason!). On my upper left forearm I have my son Gabriel's name written in Hebrew.
At the tattoo shop, they offered to redraw the image, to make it more symmetrical. I told them that I really wanted the original work, with no significant alterations. They warned me that people might not be able to figure it out. I thought: as long as it looks accurate, that's what matters.
Not all of my tattoos are "pretty" or objectively appealing pieces. In fact perhaps none of them are. I remember that after getting my upper arm tattoos, someone asked me if they were just outlines of something more I was planning to do - and was surprised when I said, "No." Yesterday as we were driving back home from the shop, I reflected on that, and if I cared. On one hand it's nice to show off a piece (which you only get because it matters to you) and have others comment on how lovely it is. But my tattoos are ultimately for me. When I receive a tattoo, I feel like I'm tapping into some primal essence, into ancient history, into the annals of human experience. I invite all of that history to become a part of me. I am happy to bear the work of an unknown artisan from the 700s, in all of its asymmetrical glory. An indigenous craftswoman once told me that the best work is never "perfect." I agree!