Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thinking about Inking

So, recently I've been contemplating getting a tattoo.

Wait, what?

I'm serious — a tattoo. No, not the midget from Fantasy Island, or the thing in Edinburgh where people come from around the world to share their inexplicable fondness for marching in formation while inflicting playing (chiefly) bagpipe music1.

Yeah, I admit it's not exactly something I ever expected to be contemplating, given that I'm kind of past what I assume is the average age of a person who gets their first tattoo.

1Incidentally, some friends of mine from Adelaide went with a local pipe band a few years back and one of them ended up featuring quite prominently in the footage they shot.

Not an about—face, per se

It's not like I went to bed being against tattoos and woke up to find myself wanting one; I had thought about before, albeit quite a few years ago. But, despite it being something I was completely okay with – in principle – I never reached the point where I'd made up my mind about exactly what it was I wanted permanently etched into my skin.

This may be a good thing; I've made some silly decisions in my time, and to have chosen something I would eventually have grown to regret would have been a problem, given that the options are either live with it or have it lasered off.

And I'm well-aware of the unpleasantness of the latter option; my ex-flatmate Sebastian the French-Canadian chiropractor2 had had some tattoos and then decided to have them removed, and once a month (or so) would come home in serious pain and, within a few days, would have gross gunk oozing from underneath the bandages.

2I really need to do a blog post on that guy. Fascinating character.

Precedent – well, sort of

My family is split on the issue — at least in terms of having chosen to get tattoos. My father has several, and does my half-sister Leanne; my mother and my half-brother Jeff, though, don't. My late half-brother Louis may have had tattoos — despite the fact I barely knew him, what I know about him suggests it's not something he'd have had a problem with — but it's not like I can ask him.

Despite the fact my mother cohabited3 with a man with tattoos — possibly even more than one; while her current husband doesn't have any, her first husband John did as well — I have a sneaking suspicion she'd probably disapprove, even though she mightn't say so. My brother would almost certainly disapprove, but since I've spent most of my life doing things he disapproves of4, that's not really much of shock.

Not that any of this will have any impact on my decision, of course. It's been a very long time since parental — or, for that matter, fraternal — disapproval has served as any kind of stumbling block for me.

3She didn't marry him, though. Yeah, that's right I'm a bastard. In both senses of the word.
4At one point several years back when I was looking for a job he asked me why I hadn't tried the military or the police, and I — more than a little shocked — responded with, 'have you met me?”

But why, exactly?

I'm not thinking about getting a tattoo (or, potentially, tattoos) for the sake of getting one; it ties in with the recent increase in interest in my heritage — and I've realised it's something I'd like to acknowledge in some way.

And I thought to myself: why not tattoos?

A one-man melting pot

I guess I should probably explain: despite looking like your average, everyday pasty white guy on the outside, I'm somewhat more exotic underneath — apart from the fairly predictable English and Irish, I've also got African4, French5 and American6.

Not that you could tell from looking at me, though the combination might explain the weird bone structure — or lack thereof — of my face; sadly, I'm no Wentworth Miller7.

4I know 'African' isn't very specific, but considering the circumstances; my ancestor an illiterate, mixed-race, French-speaking convict named Louis Marcelin didn't provide much information when sentenced to transportation from Mauritius the early 19th century equivalent of receiving stolen goods.
5The assumption, given that Grandpère Louis spoke French, is that his white ancestor was French though I guess Belgian is also a possibility.
6Again, not really a ethnicity as such; to be an American with my surname (that's actually where the Wright comes from) means almost certainly being some kind of white European — but we've got no records on what, exactly, that ancestry was — or how far removed my ex-pat US citizen ancestor was from it. So I'm counting it as its own.
7He of Prison Break fame; you can read about his complicated lineage on his Wikipedia page.

That makes five

Which means I've got five concepts I want to represent. But how, exactly?

At first I thought about trying to put all the elements together into one — like a coat-of-arms. But with five different countries/ethnicities to display, and wanting to give each equal prominence, it'd need to be big — far bigger than I'd really want to have, for reasons I'll discuss later.

So, it'd have to be five individual tattooos.

Some difficult choices

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to represent a country — flags, animals, flowers/plants and so forth.

When I was trying to choose things for the coat-of-arms, I had some idea — a Bald Eagle for the USA, a bulldog for England, le drapeau tricolor (the French flag) for France (duh), a lion for Africa and a shamrock for Ireland.

But that didn't work — like I said, I wanted to give each equal significance, and the shamrock just doesn't carry as much weight as either the animals or the flag.

So, what else is there on the list of iconic Irish symbols that I'd be happy with? The shamrock is okay when not held up against other things, but I wanted to consider some other options; the first that came to mind was a leprechaun, but that's a bit cartoonish for my taste.

There are, of course, any number of Celtic designs, and I do like the style, but I've never seen a specific one that I've been that entranced by. But then I remembered something I'd actually considered the first time I ever thought about getting a tattoo: the Irish harp (courtesy of

Not only is it elegant, musical and wholly Irish, it's also the symbol for Guinness, which I'm also somewhat partial to from time to time — and what had driven me to consider it in the past, given that at that time I had no idea about my Irish ancestry.

The bulldog stays — apart from anything else it's my favourite breed of dog — though the more I think about it, the more I realise I'd like to have the Union Jack to go with it8.

France's animal symbol is, somewhat hilariously given their military reputation, a chicken — okay, it's actually a rooster, le coq gaulois — but that doesn't appeal to me all that much.

There's also the fleur-de-lis:

Of course, anyone who knows their history — or has seen the 1993 film version of The Three Musketeers9 — knows that the fleur-de-lis was tattooed on the shoulders of criminals condemned to death. But, as cool as that is, I'm really fond of the French flag, though, and since the only other thing I could think of that captures what I'm going for is a guillotine, it looks like le drapeau tricolor is the way to go.

Then there's the lion, an animal of which I'm not especially fond10 — and which also can be found outside of Africa, albeit in very small numbers. So the lion was out, too; I had to think of something else.

And then it hit me: a giraffe11. This was so much better than a lion on several levels because — a) it's a wholly African creature, b) they look awesome, c) it's one of my most favourite creatures in the world, and d) I'm fairly sure there aren't that many giraffe tattoos out there, and I like the idea of having something relatively uncommon.

The Bald Eagle stays, too. Again, the other options — the Stars & Stripes, for example — don't inspire me anywhere near as much. So that's easy.

8Weirdly enough, this is also one of the tattoos my father has; while my relationship with him can only be described as distant, there's still a part of me that's happy that we might end up sharing that.
9It's not great. But the villains are played by Tim Curry and Michael Wincott, which is something.
10I don't really know why. I like most of the other big cats.
11Not literally.

Location, location, location

So, I've got five tattoos in mind — the next question is where do I put them?

One concern I do have about such body art is that I've got my theatre to think about; there are plenty of roles out there that having a visible tattoo might affect my chances of getting. So my choices are somewhat limited in that regard – anything below the elbow or above the collar, for example.

Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it — I don't tend to get cast in roles where I have to take of my shirt or pants12.

The back, then, is the logical choice. But there's a problem — moles. I have lots. Lots and lots. Heck, I've probably got more moles than a Wind in the Willows-themed cosplay event. So that makes large sections of my back unavailable for tattooing.

But I've got a few places on my back that are free; add to that my uppers arms, both my shoulders and my shoulder-blades and I should be fine.

12If for no other reason than that much luminescence (being that I'm so white and all) throws out the lighting.

Next step(s)

I've now got to work out what's going to go where, which one I'm going to get first, and which tattoo place I'm going to go to.

The first two decisions are going to take a bit of thought; the third, on the other hand, is going to take some consultation with those people I know who have their own tattoos. But there are plenty of those, so that's probably going to be the easiest decision — unless, of course, they each recommend a different studio.

Now, though, I've just got to decide which first and where. At this point my Francophilia — at an all time high thanks to the fact I'm about three-quarters of the way through Les Misérables — is leading me to favour honouring my French ancestry first.

I will, of course, keep you all updated on how it goes. Heck, I'll even take pictures.

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