cherry blossoms and orcas

I read on futurama that one of the community members wants a Futurama tattoo, and it reminded me that I’m working on figuring out new tattoos this week. I read, in a book last week, that cherry blossom tattoos symbolize the beauty and the fragility of life. I have confirmed this with pages detailing Japanese tattoo symbolism, which say:

the cherry blossom : is the symbol for all that is transient and evanescent in life
(the samurai adopted the cherry blossom as a personal insignia, indicating that they might die in battle the next day)

I like that idea. Cherry blossoms, to me, are also something I associate with home, with Victoria, with the time in spring when the petals pile up in the streets, and the whole city smells of blossoms and sea salt. Therefore, I’m thinking about getting some cherry blossoms around and overlaying the kanji on my back. These days, I wouldn’t pick a Japanese symbol, because it seems a bit disrespectful, to me, to choose something from someone else’s culture – but I already have the kanji, already have borrowed from Asia, and cherry blossoms would serve to camouflage the characters a little bit. I don’t regret that tattoo – I just wish I’d saved the real estate on my lower back for something more symbolic of who I am in the long term.


A little back story on that existing tattoo, for those of you who weren’t around at the time. That was my 21st birthday tattoo. It was the one where I, drunk on Hurricanes at the Hard Rock Cafe, squealed, “let’s get matching tattoos” to the two girlfriends I’d gone to Dallas with for the weekend. So we did, and sammynella and I still cite them as a symbol of our friendship. I picked the symbols, thinking, “hey, it’s OK to get Chinese characters on my back in Texas! No one will be able to read them!” Yeah, not so in Vancouver, and having “sex” and “sin/guilt” on your back in Vancouver basically means wearing tops that meet the waist of my jeans as much as possible.

I have a second tattoo that I got the first day I met sharolyn, back in 2000, another one chosen based on the fact that I didn’t live in Canada at the time. It’s a standard maple leaf, red with black outline. I show it a lot when drinking. That’s the #2 Sign I’m Getting Loaded, when I start going on about being Canadian and showing that tattoo. I’m quite proud of it though – I’m a lousy Canadian, but I’m a dedicated one.

My girl roomate and I are looking at getting marine symbols tattooed in the near future. She wants a turtle, because that’s her favorite animal. I want an orca, to symbolize my origins in the Pacific Northwest. But that’s simple enough, getting a black and white designed orca.

The thing is with the tattoos, is that this is something I am going to have for life. I have taken out the rows of piercings in my ears (in high school, I had five in my right ear, three in my left, and wore a Bjoran style ear cuff and chain). I have lost my bellybutton and tongue piercings. But the tattoos? Those are going to be with me a long time, and I don’t know how many I’m going to want to explain when I’m forty. Or, as my mom told me, do I really want a tattoo showing when I’m a grown up at a company party in a cocktail dress?

So. There have been other ideas I’ve toyed with. I’ve considered getting one of the Tarot cards, for example. Strength possibly, or just the Fool, starting his journey, bouncing down the hill. I’ve thought about getting the word for “strength” in Elvish as well – but really, I might be too old for that. The question is – what is timeless and symbolic? How do I know that in twenty years, what I have on my skin, will match what I have in my heart?

I want the orca tattoo, to start with, because that’s a double symbol. It not only stands for the Northwest, but it also stands for home & hearth in local First Nations mythology. It would represent, to me, my own home, over a thousand miles north of here. That isn’t going to change. And I’ll probably get the cherry blossoms done when I’m home in Victoria in five weeks – danica works at an excellent place in Victoria that I would totally trust with the art.

I’m not sure why I do this, or why I want the tattoos to express myself, why I need to choose symbols of who I am to have permanently inked into my skin. Maybe it’s a need to have something that goes with me for life, a piece of memorabilia that will always remind me of the time when I had the needles go into my skin. Maybe it’s because I’m so tied to the Pacific Northwest internally, that I want to externalize that. Or maybe it’s just because nothing is really permanent in my life – and the symbols embedded in my skin are two of the few things that have stayed with me as I go from life to life, city to city.

Why does anyone have this done? and how do you choose when you do it?

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4 responses to “cherry blossoms and orcas

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