Tattoos are ugly. I’ve never seen one I’ve liked, much less one that I’ve wanted myself. I don’t find them interesting or attractive. When I was growing up in the 80s grown-ups didn’t have tattoos. Not my friends’ moms and dads or any grandparents I knew. I’d only ever seen them on pirates and sailors and that one really old biker guy at church. Tattoos belong on old wrinkly skin.
The other thing is how do you choose something to put on yourself that you’re always going to like and identify with? Or do you just go on drunken impulse and hate what you’ve done every time you look at yourself naked in a mirror? Maybe I’m not good at living in the moment.
I’m not passionately anti-tatoo, just passively. I don’t spend much time thinking about them at all. Well, at least not until my 5 year-old started to be very interested in them. For a while there she said when she grew up she was going to work at a tattoo place. This was after a brief period when I heard a lot of questions while waiting for a stoplight where there was a tattoo parlor–that sounds very old fashioned, do they call them tattoo studios now? or tatoo-eries?–on the corner. “They put them on with needles and it hurts a lot and you can never get it off,” I’d tell her. But her cute 20-something swim lesson teacher had many of them, and so the intrigue continued.
So I was very surprised when this spring while leaving the YMCA l saw a woman with a tattoo on her arm of the Great Lakes getting on her bike. Now that was awesome. She left before I could tell her so, but I think it is the coolest thing. I kept thinking about it and the more I thought about it the more I wanted one just like it. I still don’t have one and will likely never get one, but if were to get one, that would be it.
I could confidently get it because the Great Lakes have shaped my identity. I’m a Great Lakes gal. Other than my college years I’ve always lived on one side of Lake Michigan or the other. I grew up drinking her water, swimming in her waves, contemplating her moody appearance as an Evanstonian newlywed. Now I couldn’t be happier to live in a peninsula surrounded by fresh water lakes. How cool is that?
This whole Great Lakes identity thing struck me as I read Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes which I picked up at the Falling Rock bookstore up near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore last summer. It made me realize how much of my life has been impacted by Lake Michigan and how blessed I’ve been by it. It seemed silly at first, but I have so many wonderful Lake Michigan memories that I take great pride in being a Great Lakes girl. So much so that I’d almost tattoo their shapes on my arm. Almost.