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  • jenhelmuth

finding indelible joy

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

Some things will never change. And that’s OK. Like the new tattoo I just got. Well, that’s not entirely true, it has already started to change a bit as it heals – it’s fascinating to watch. It is lightening up a little bit and showing it’s true colours. Just like me.


And the whole process and experience of getting this tattoo was a lot like, well - me. Some things about me just seem to be permanently there. Like how I asked the tattoo artist (we’ll call him Chris because that’s his name and he features in this whole story) to wipe off and reset the template 3 times. Or maybe it was 4 times. Yes, it’s true. And if you know me, you are nodding.


Chris was very patient and also had an opinion on the tattoo, which played into how the whole thing went down, and how my true colours came out. Now the tattoo permanently reminds me of those true colours. In addition to wanting my tattoo to be perfect, I also wanted to please Chris and not offend him. He IS after all the expert on tattoos and has been doing this for years. So the positioning and design of the tattoo became a collaboration / negotiation. Plus, I didn’t want to run out his patience and piss him off before he took permanent ink to my body.


Maybe here is where I should tell you that I had provided Chris with a tattoo design that I’ve been drawing on my wrist for months trying to figure out exactly what I’d like the tattoo to look like. So we were working with my own drawing, not a template off the shelf that just needed to be placed and inked. The trouble is, I’m not a tattoo artist, so I don’t know how to draw a template for a tattoo that wraps around your wrist in just the right way. I can draw it on my arm, but translating that to a perfect tattoo template is a bit different. Therein lies the negotiation / collaboration.


I had not drawn my design exactly to scale, so he had to adjust it a bit, and then we started cutting out the different elements and shifting them in relation to each other and where I wanted it to be on my body. Several times. Phew. When I thought he was getting to the end of his rope, I’d thank him for bearing with me saying “because this is permanent, right?”. And he’d agree, letting me make yet another adjustment.


Finally, I realized that this could not go on any longer. If I continued to be picky and tweaking it to “perfection”, then I was not going to get this tattoo, and I’d piss off Chris in the process.

I’ve been thinking about this tattoo for a long time. And when actually got real about what it would look like and where…. I was ready! So, here I was quibbling about the exact positioning when I realized I needed to piss or get off the pot.


Part of getting a tattoo for me represents being bold. Daring. Rebellious. A pioneer. A kick-ass pioneer. I didn’t want to get to the end of my life (not that I’m anywhere near that, just so you know) and say “wow, I wish I would have gotten that tattoo.....”


So, I took a deep breath, glanced up at the autographed picture of Chris with Hulk Hogan, made one final adjustment and said, “Yep. Let’s do it."


That seemed brave for me. I’m sure Chris was almost exasperated and ready to just get to the ink. For someone who does this every day, and has tattoos all over his body (that I could see), this was just another appointment in his calendar. Another “day at the office”, ho-hum.


But ME… I was branching out! Making a statement and marking something important to me. This was partly to celebrate finishing my MA degree, something I always knew I’d do eventually. This tattoo is there to remind me that I’m special and unique and vibrant and relevant in my own right. This tattoo is for me to mark myself. To claim my middle name as my own: to brand myself.


Immediately upon arriving back home, I looked at my tattoo. Shit!! That swirl - right there - isn’t quite right. It’s too….. yuck!!! And the colour is so dark. I had wanted purple, this looks like blue. Dang! I said I didn’t want something that looks like a tattoo. It just wasn’t quite right. Oh, crap!! OK. How was I going to fix this? It just needs another dot here. And a curly cue over there and maybe some more colour over here….


Of course. This is who I am. Critical. A perfectionist. I have high standards. I was disappointed that people wouldn't see the full beauty of what this tattoo could have been if only I had worked it to perfection. Now they are going to wonder why I settled for a mediocre tattoo. It doesn’t live up to my standards.


I was replaying the whole tattooing scene in my head to try to figure out why I had let this happen. Why I didn’t stand up for myself when I wasn’t sure? When I wasn’t 100% satisfied? Why did I let Chris participate in deciding on MY tattoo? And why was it important that I not hurt his feelings? This is a permanent mark on my body! I thought about all the things I know about myself and how all of these came through in both the process of getting a tattoo and then the subsequent critique and desire to “fix” it. How did I let this happen?


And then it hit me. Sucked the air right out of my lungs.


I realized that this tattoo was something I really wanted. And I decided to let go of my need for it to be perfect AND my need to completely control it all…. I said “yes, let’s go for it” and when I did that…. I got permanent joy. THAT’s what I got out of the deal. A permanent reminder that if I let go of my need for perfection and control… I’ll have joy. Always.


There are many parts of this tattoo that I love. The word joy with the dot above the “j”. The way that it’s my own handwriting. The way it wraps around my wrist… The way the colours change in the lighting. And I still also notice things are aren’t quite exactly as I envisioned. And seeing these elements not as imperfect, but as reminders that when I can put what’s truly important first, and focus on that – then I find joy. Indelible joy, right there in front of me, plain as day. And I’m so glad for this permanent reminder, because I will always have these tendencies to see with a critical eye and seek perfection… but they don’t have to get in the way of finding joy.



#tips #change

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