You Can’t Go Wrong With Skulls

Yesterday I stopped by Revolution Tattoo in Bucktown for an appointment with Omar, the owner.  The shop is on Western Avenue in Chicago.  I did a lot of research on shops in the city, googling artists and studios, asking friends for suggestions, and contacting the shops for consultations.  Revolution was my pic for many reasons: the traditional tattoo designs on the leggy walls, the antler collection above the doorway, the large bat hanging from the ceiling.  When I arrived Omar was just putting the finishing touches on a design he and I talked about two weeks prior, so yesterday was the day I got the outline for my chest piece.

2222 N Western Avenue

2222 N Western Avenue

The design has quite a lot of detail, so we did the outline in one day, and are doing the shading in a month, after Omar returns from two weeks in Europe, and I’ve forgotten how painful chest tattoos can be.  While sitting in the chair yesterday I got to know Omar, listened to some stories about his shop and the time and effort it took him and his wife to build it.  K came with me for support* and was great about helping the conversations along.  She asked Omar about his wife’s role in Revolution’s genesis and he told us about her curatorial interests and the art space they have next door.  She was responsible, largely, for the decor of the studio, which made sense to me.  Another part of the reason I chose Revolution for my tattoo wasn’t just because of the impressive bone collection or because Omar is talented, seasoned, and trustworthy, but also because the shop feels homey.  It has, as Omar said, “a woman’s touch.”  Each artist has his own station, and I’m sure they’re filled with objects specific to that person.  But there is a cohesive warmth to the space as a whole, the details make it not only comfortable and evocative, but authentic.  Revolution is a classic tattoo shop, it feels small and broken-in and interesting.  That’s the kind of local business I want to support, and it’s the kind of place I want my tattoo experience to find its home in.

Something that I didn’t expect is that Omar reminded me of my uncle Tony quite a lot.

It happened like this: I’m reclined in the black tattoo chair, Omar’s telling me a story about his beloved green 1971 Chevy truck** and out of the corner of my eye I catch this little smirk rustle his cheek, the twitch and shift of his full beard gives it away and that movement on that cheek reminds me of Tony.  Until that moment I hadn’t noticed how Omar’s beard and hair are the same color as Tony’s before he went grey.  Omar’s nose comes to the same rounded point as Tony’s but the similarity is most surprising in the eyes.  They both have playful, sharp brown eyes.  At first, I found myself avoiding his gaze at times because it felt like Tony was looking at me and that stirred up all kinds of ugly feelings.  But as I laid there, because it wasn’t Tony leaning over me, something turned over in my gut.  Sometimes clenching my fists in my pockets as Omar worked the gun’s way over my sternum, sometimes leaning into the many needle points because that felt better than to feel the ticklish vibration in my ribs, I thought about Tony and it was actually quite nice, thinking about Tony as a younger person, someone not related to me and without all that ugly baggage and I felt like maybe I was capable of healing Tony’s legacy by forgiving him in those little moments.

So I thought about healing for a little bit, how it can be healing in that moment to let Tony be free of his pain, and so then I could be free of the pain he caused me.  I could just listen to Omar’s stories, and let Tony step in and out of that room, and I concentrated on the little belly breaths I took to keep the canvas still and felt calm and pleased and at peace about my relationship with Tony.  And when Tony would lean back and out again, I thought about how my chest was healed after surgery, how my body was healed with my soul, how healing it can be to cut out things that don’t fit and aren’t representative of you.  I wish Tony would have cut out alcohol, but he couldn’t.  It was nice to imagine getting a tattoo from my cool uncle Tony.  Maybe we were in his shop, or in his garage, and maybe we were talking about girls.  Maybe we were talking about Led Zepplin.  As the gun made the arch of a wing on my chest I knew what it was like to have that guy in my life.  It was only for a few seconds here and there, and it was after he died, but Tony and I found our way to each other.  Wings are funny that way, when you don’t know how to use them they take you to mysterious places you have never been.

I looked down and saw another little feather appear.  I thought about wings and flight and how I cut out my breasts and how the scars helped me to get above myself.  I thought about how those scars arch like wings.  And I thought about that Leonard Cohen line in Anthem, “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  I thought about how much light those scars have let in.  And sometimes when I would look down while the gun was being dipped in ink I would see this black image drawing my eye away from my scars.  Which is part of the point, but also I looked at my scars and thought about how this was their first time being really looked at in public, and by someone who wasn’t K or my doctor.  I thought about how those scars lift me.  So soon I found myself smiling easily in that chair, K sitting a few feet away and chatting with Chito, another artists in the shop.

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Chito and I discovered we’re from the same home town and so for a while we talked about how the town has changed, talked about the roads that used to dead end and now they go over a new bridge and all the way out of town.  There’s a pause in the chatter and he seems far away, but then he steps closer to me, away from his table and he squints at the design emerging on my chest.  Almost inaudible over The Sword’s Barael’s Blade, Chito says something.

“Skulls,” he breaths wistfully, “You can’t go wrong with Skulls.”

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*I have many tattoos, so I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand for that.  But it was my first time being shirtless in public, essentially, so it was more of a “stick around until I can gauge whether this feels like a safe space for me.”  I got a good feeling there right off the bat, but then she stuck around for the conversation and fun and ended up staying all 4 hours.  What a champ is she!
**For many years when I was a kid, Tony parked that same model in our driveway in powder blue.

 

Buongiorno!

Friends!

What a long absence I’ve had from you.  I have thought about you from time to time, and now I return with an update.

These last few months have been busy, busy with submitting rejected chapbook submissions (Three in all!  So many pages of forgettable poetry!  I’ll retail you with a poem at the end of this post if you’re good!) and wedding planning.  I’ll let you guess which of those activities was more fun…ok, here’s a hint: planning the wedding also entails planning the honeymoon, which is three weeks in Italy.

Bam!

Italy!

K and I have been having a great time booking places to stay (some time in Rome, some in Florence, some in Cinque Terre) and, with the help of Duolingo, practicing a little Italian in hopes of currying favor with the locals.

So, if you want to tell someone the man eats an apple, give him this: l’uomo mangia un mela and my love!

But don’t let all these exclamation marks fool you, it’s not been all fun and games.  Life is hard and depressing if you look at it that way, and over these cold and dark months it’s been easier to look at it like that than any other way.

My birthday passed through these parts last week, coupled with an injury that has kept me out of the gym for two months (well, an injury that has kept me from running, but my apathy kept me completely out of the gym) and I’m feeling pretty bad about myself.  Today I went back to the gym for the first time since, oh, October? And of course I’m not back to square one, but I’m pretty sad about my state.  So I called myself all kinds of names on the way home, remembering to be shitty about not going to the gym, and about being a weird trans thing, about being a traitor to my writing practice, yeah, I really let all the old jabs out of the bag.  Once home, during the shower I just wanted to lay down in the tub and take a nap.

Instead I dried off and laid on the couch and looked out the window and sighed for a little while.

Then I started to think about the difference between acceptance and giving up.  The last few months, while I was out of the gym, I tried to convince myself what I was doing was a good thing, that accepting my body for how it was, for eating more sweets and skipping yoga was mentally healthy.  But of course it’s not: I was giving up.  And now I find myself in this body, not a bad one, but not one I like.

So I figured that acceptance is going to the gym two or three times a week, every week, instead of going 5 times, making it 3 times, and giving up because I didn’t go 7.  Acceptance is about always trying, but not berating myself if I don’t succeed every time.

I’ve spent so much of my life trying, trying to be a better writer, a fitter person, but there are limitations to every body.  So I am currently trying to enjoy the things about myself that I am happy about (I am actually a pretty good writer, and actually have a pretty nice body) without giving up on a writing practice (even if my practice only happens once a week, and sometimes it’s in the form of reading rather than writing) or a health regime (even if that regime means going to the gym 3 times a week, and having a couple cookies at lunch).

So that’s that.  But I am curious, friends, do you have some insight in to how you balance between reaching your goals and accepting yourself?

Oh, I am past due on an anniversary on T video update, but it’s coming soon.

But, for now I leave you with:

Jupiter

Grandpa’s rough hand turns the ignition to break the quiet darkness of early morning.
Up on a chair I squint into the dark frame of the kitchen window but can’t see him
Shift in the stiff driver’s seat.  The sound of a door snapping shut,
The quick spark of his lighter, the car in reverse at 4 am
Tell me things about his life I won’t understand until after his death.
Only years later did I learn of the mallet he kept under his bed
In case his son came at him in his sleep.
He feared waking to the sensation of fingers gripped
Around his neck, his own hands but younger and out of control,
Acting on crazed impulse or auditory hallucination.
In that house, our lives depended on the distance we kept from them.
Every night ended with ice cubes clinked against an otherwise empty tumbler:
A depleted god’s thunder clap.
The screen door opening after a night at the V.F.W., another clap.
Count the seconds between flash and boom.

E

ZAFTIG #3

I’ve been away from this blog, doing some poetry writing, submitting to some contests.  So while I’ve not been writing here, I have been writing.  It’s been nice.

Gender-wise, I’m mostly just chugging along on the testosterone.  I’ve sprouted my first side burn hairs, and my voice continues to move around and drop.

I’m going to post a video this week (I like to do one every three month or so, and this one is a little late) regarding trans-stuff.

For now, please take a look at ZAFTIG, a zine I have an erasure poem in–the issue’s topic is Nourishment.  

-E