The simple fact that I write a blog is endemic to my being part of the “Me Generation”. With the ever burgeoning globalization and homogenization of technology, comes the fear that we are losing our sense of individuality, so it’s not all that surprising that we are desperate to carve out our own space, or identity, in this sea of uniformity. We are the most photographed, self-promoting generation in the history of civilization. One need only look to Facebook, the blogosphere, Twitter, and all the other social media to witness our eagerness to have a voice—a presence—in society.
The significance of narrative can not be understated as a thread that unites us to our past, our present, and our future. Some people choose to record “their story” in writing, others carry their story inside, but today, more and more people, like me, are choosing to wear “their story” on their body. Tattoos are no longer the purview of sailors and members of the fringe society; you are just as likely to see a tattoo on a “soccer mom” as you are on a punk rocker.
According to a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, Americans spend an average of $1.6 billion annually on tattoos. The total percentage of Americans (all ages) who have at least one tattoo is 14%, but that number jumps to 40% in the 26 to 40 age bracket. 29% of respondents said that their tattoos make the feel “rebellious”, and 31% said tattoos make them feel “more sexy”.
Anyone who has a tattoo will attest to how addictive they are. Entering a tattoo parlour is like entering an inner sanctum—it really does have the aura of a “spiritual” or ritualistic experience. I love walking into a studio knowing that when I leave, another part of my story will be written on my skin. I think there are definitely two types of people in the world: those who have or would like a tattoo, and those who believe you’re an idiot for getting a tattoo—There really is no middle ground on this issue.
I got my first tattoo almost 20 years ago, when I was in my rebellious period, and I was a full-blown alcoholic. I really did get this tattoo as an impulse—a “screw you” to the world of conformity. I’ve since had that tattoo, a trinity symbol, covered up and incorporated into a larger Celtic design on my shoulder. I love my tattoos because they serve as a “road map” of my life, a portable photo album of where I was, or who I was, at different points of my life. One of my favourite tattoos is a “Roadrunner” that a I have on my calf. My wife picked out the design and gave it to me as a birthday present as a recognition of how transformative running has been to both my physical and mental well-being.
I often refer to myself as a “recovering Catholic”, having been the product of an alienating and repressive Catholic upbringing and education. Today, I align myself with many Buddhist teachings, so we have more than a dozen Buddhas around our house. I thought it only fitting to have a big Buddha tattooed on my back to remind me that I’m never alone, even in the darkest periods of my life. When I got back to Canada after running the prestigious Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa, I got a tattoo of the race logo and my number on my bicep as a reminder of an experience that wrenched me out of my comfort zone. On the inside of my other bicep, I had the word “Gratitude” inked when I celebrated my 10th year of sobriety. As a recovering alcoholic, I like to remind myself as often as possible how “grateful” I am to have been given the grace of sobriety and transformation.
In April of last year, I disclosed to friends and family that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I felt I needed to mark the significance of this life event by having a tattoo of a Buddhist lotus flower placed on my arm. The lotus is revered in Buddhist tradition because it is a beautiful delicate flower that grows out of the mud. For me, I see my life today as a manifestation of beauty and empowerment that has grown out of the ugliness of the trauma from my childhood. Starting from my wrist and surrounding the lotus and cascading all the way up my arm, are many colourful stars that remind me not to take life so seriously and to keep looking up at the wonder above.