Excessively Long Introduction
Years ago I would occasionally look at tattoo magazines. In some cases the images were beautiful, truly amazing things that astonished me. In other cases the tattoos were hideously ugly, clearly intended to shock and repel, sending a message that something about the wearer’s unfortunate life compelled them to visual transgression. And then there are tattoos that are just dumb, dum, dumm, God almighty! Clearly a lot of morons are getting tattoos.
Still, I was interested. I never imagined I’d actually get one, though I finally decided that when I turned 50, I would get a tattoo, only I couldn’t make up my mind what to get. Last week, after I turned 61, I got one. I just needed time to contemplate. My daughter made all the arrangements, choosing the place and the artist, and she went with me. Earlier, when she and I were in a bar sharing a bottle of wine, my son-in-law, the artist Tyson McAdoo, was on the phone with her joking about reasons I should not get a tattoo. (For a little context, both my daughter and her husband are covered with tattoos.)
Here are Tyson’s reasons and my iron-clad, logical response: (1) What will it look like when you get old? Answer: I’m already old, so no problem. (2) You’ll never get another good job. Answer: A good job? How is a tattoo going to make things worse in that regard? (3) You’ll only attract crazy women. Answer: I clearly haven’t needed a tattoo to manage that.
So last Saturday, my daughter and I went to Ink and Dagger tattoo studio (or “parlor”, if you prefer a more genteel 19th century vocabulary), and a couple of hours later I walked out with the tattoo pictured above.
Finally, My Actual Point
And I do have an actual point. When I lived in Pennsylvania, twice I met composers who said they were interested in working with me to write a one-act opera. Twice I got fooled, because twice I wrote the libretto (you see how sophisticated I am; I used the technical opera word for “script”), and twice the composer did not write the music. On one of those two occasions—ah ha! my real point—the subject we agreed on was a woman who symbolizes a change in her life by getting a tattoo. Almost the entire opera (called Colored Ink) takes place in a tattoo parlor. I think it’s a shame the music never got written, as it might have been the only tattoo opera in the world. (So if you know any serious composers, send them my way.)
Below I’m giving a few lines from the opera, ending with an aria about getting a tattoo, sung by Jenna. She’s the woman who gets the tattoo, and her boyfriend Taylor, a serious businessman, is appalled that she has done this. The two of them also work together. Imagine all of this being sung, especially the aria.
And why can’t I be respected with a tattoo?
We have to live in the real world, Jenna. This is where we pay rent.
You think I’m naïve.
That’s not what I’m saying. But I have to go. Make sure you get the Keller files to Robert. I’ll pick you up this evening at seven for the party. Be careful your sleeves are long enough. [He exits to the right.]
Yes, I’ll wear long sleeves. But why does it matter so much? Taylor was right about one thing. He really doesn’t know me. I wish he did. [She looks at her rose tattoo.] It’s part of who I am now. And I’m glad.
What does a rose mean when it blooms on your arm? I’ve planted seeds and waited, waited for rain to fall, waited for Taylor, to garden together, with his kisses that held me in thrall. From seeds we grew seedlings, and rose bushes came. But Taylor doesn’t know me, the girl who sits all day, the girl who types, the girl who dies doing what people say. He doesn’t even want to know.
I’ll never have roses from Taylor. My rose bush grows in sunlight, I’ve waited for rain to fall, but not a bud and not a flower. I should have painted roses on this wall. Instead a rose blooms on my arm.
One rose can turn into a dozen. When someone really listens, and cares what we have to say, who cares what we need to be happy, a rose becomes a bouquet. What does a rose mean when it blooms on your arm? It means you’ve seen the flowers in yourself.