I'm not going to lie: when I sat down in the artist's seat, a couple of doubtful thoughts surfaced. Okay. Maybe more than a couple. But no more than five. And yes, what I imagined my mother's face would do when she saw them was right up there, near the front.
I've stepped into many tattoo parlors in my 40 years. I've had those convos with close friends about what "it" would be, my first tattoo. Funny. Now that I think about it, the same energy we discussed our tattoos was the same energy present when discussing what my superpowers would be, if I had them, when I was 8 years old, bouncing up and down on the trampoline.
The first tattoo was always going to be a phoenix—a cosmic bird of fire of rebirth and renewal; the primal creative force of the galaxy (thanks Marvel® and Jean Grey™). Guess what? The phoenix didn't happen. These two grammatical marks (see above) happened instead (and yes: if and when the phoenix tattoo happens, this is what it'll look like).
Sitting in that seat, listening to the buzz and trying to make cool-calm-collected conversation with my artist, I couldn't help but wonder: are these permanent marks worth the pain?
Here's my thing with pain: I don't like it. At all. Like, I really, really don't like it. And I try to avoid it because, well, pain is just so... painful. You feel me?
And yet I consciously walk into pain, settle in with pain, or sit across from pain over and over and over again. Do you? We say we abhor it but I think we find reasons of willingness to step into it. What is this crazy relationship we have with pain?
I've been asked, "What does it feel like—to be tattooed?" Not much. It just feels like a piece of sharp metal being pinch-dragged across one of the paper-thinnest, most tenderest parts of your arm. That, or a mountain lion gnawing on your wrists, over and over.
No bigee, right? It's just pain.
My late aunt, Norma, had some great words about pain. This dear, winged-heart, was in pain the majority of her life. Not tattoo-pain; REAL pain. Chronic. Gut-wrenching. Numbing. Enough to make it so you can't move. And she was acquainted with it for years. Upon one visit, I remember her telling me how pain was a wonderful teacher. "Pain, Dallas," she said, "brings you to the present moment. It looks into your eyes and reminds you of what IS, right now. And as soon as it's gone, you can't actually recall it, physically. You only knew it was there, because of the lack of pain it left behind."
What about symbols? Well, I love symbols. Do you? I like them the same reasons you do: locked, hidden meanings behind simple shapes, curved forms, angled edges, or blurred colors. I like symbols because one thing can mean many things and be shared with a world-wide audience, all of whom may have their own interpretation of the exact same symbol! That ability to make it personal, too, makes the symbol specifically perfect for each of us.
So, why the "," and the "!"? Well, most of you know that a few years ago, I saw the "," and "!" mark in a new way—in a very bright, avian kind of way—and a number of things have come from that. My imaginary talisman, Red Fred Bodoni, was genetically created principally by these two marks. They are the biggest part of what makes him him. But even back then, when I made him, I wondered about the symbolism of these marks and came up with the following mantra:
Pause & rejoice.
You see, I'm the type that needs reminders. And I need reminders because I forget things. And sometimes when I forget things, I cause pain to others, I cause pain to the world, or I cause pain to myself. That's the thing about forgetfulness: it happens and then because of it, pain usually results.
So when the 40 bday arrived, I had this moment of clarity—the kind of clarity that when you know it's arrived, you know you should pick it up and treasure it. And that's exactly what I did. At 3:13 p.m. that afternoon, I realized that my first tattoo wasn't going to be the powerful symbol of the phoenix I had spent years imagining; my first tattoo was going to be two (instead of one) and they were going to be the mantra I had created and used and lived with, over and over again for years. They were going to be placed on my body so I could view them to remind myself not to forget one of the most significant things I continue to not forget, daily: (,&!), Dallas. (,&!).
And boy, do I need it now. For some reason, it's one of those internal seasons where I am grasping at flying thoughts and intentions, blowing in the wind, and feeling like I'm losing some of the earth beneath my feet. And I know: you think I'm more balanced. You think I have it all together, so-to-speak. But I'm telling you right now, it's windy inside and my feathers need strengthening or calming or something. So, what do I do?
I (,&!). Sometimes the ,-ing takes longer. Like, days, or weeks, or months. And sometimes I need my friends to help me remember to. I'm learning to be okay with that. Do you know why? Because I know I will also have the practice of !-ing afterwards. I know it'll come, but usually only after I've given the attention to pausing and letting that settle in.
And guess what? It's painful.
But I'm going to sit with it and open my palms to the sky.