I thought, when I got my first tattoo, that there would be an adjustment period afterward, like the one that happens after you change your hairstyle, start wearing a different color of nail polish, get a new pair of shoes. Self ideation is a thing. We form very strong mental images of ourselves, and things that alter or challenge that image in even a small or desirable way can be jarring. 'I love that new cut on you,' we can hear five hundred times in the week after going to the hair stylist, and even though they gave us exactly what we wanted, we smile and say thank-you and maybe secretly hate it for the three weeks that it takes us to get used to it, after which we can love it again ourselves, and anything different would seem strange.
But no: every tattoo I've had (and I don't have many, admittedly), I have loved. There have been times I've had to adjust to seeing them together, as a collection of images that are beginning to form a larger visual ambiance, some impression of togetherness greater than each individual image, but I've loved them all. I have been proud that they belong to me. They are impressive pieces of art.
And now I have one that I don't love, for the first time, and I don't know how to deal with that.
It isn't a bad tattoo. It's done well enough. It's a looser, simpler style than my regular guy's, but I can dig that. If I couldn't, I'd never have made the appointment.
I just feel like it wasn't the tattoo I thought I would be getting.
The guy's portfolio is full of charming pieces. Simple, like I said, but sometimes it seems as though the simplest pieces express the greatest amount of character -- that certain something I don't have a name for. You look at them and smile, because they've got personality. I don't feel that about this piece at all.
I have been asking myself why it is that I'm disappointed. Is it that it's wildly different from everything else that I have? Is it that it's alone on my other arm, its difference from my other tattoos underlined by how alone it is and all of the untattooed skin around it? Does it have the charm that compelled me to make the appointment, and I just can't see it through the weirdness of something so different from what I've gotten used to receiving? Was the portfolio misleading, or did he phone it in? Is it my fault? After all, I green-lit everything, every step of the way. But traditional concepts are so simple, the stencils so far removed from the final product, just a ghost of what the piece can become on the skin -- how can anyone ever look at one and predict how it'll turn out, aside from looking at a portfolio? Until it's colored, and too late, how can you know?
Is the problem the tattoo, or my perspective? Why can I not figure out the answer to this question? And even if I can't tell, does the answer matter when the consequence is the same -- that I look at it and experience weirdly mixed feelings, instead of the rapt affection I feel when I look at my other work?
Tattoos are not haircuts or nail polish. They aren't new shoes. You can't try them on and find they don't work for you, and shed them easily afterward.
Do I try to learn to love it, or do I make peace with not loving it, and surround it with things that I love? Covering it seems excessive to even think about. It's not at all badly executed. The guy who did it was nice, friendly. I enjoyed the evening. I like his other work.
Most of these questions are rhetorical, I suppose. When the dust settles, I'll figure out how I feel and do something about the tattoo, or I won't, and that'll be that. I pick away at my feelings about it because they're new and alien to me, and even -- in spite of the anxiety attendant to them -- interesting to experience in an objective way, not something I've ever felt about something I've done to my body.
It has been a strange two days.