August 12, 2019

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5. Ink in my Gun

Once, I interviewed a tattoo Artist as he was inscribing a man named McGregor. It was in my university years - I did not do a proper subject.

McGregor was immensely tattooed and heavily relaxed. He waved at me cheerily as the Artist went to work on his shin, drilling permanent dye beneath his anatomically-correct epidermis.

Um, so…,’ I began confidently, how did you get into tattooing?’ The Artist embarked on a detailed personal and family history.

McGregor listened attentively, looking from me to the Artist. He nodded encouragingly as I hesitated or stuttered. His arms were great maps of experience, marked with various branches of his life and mighty oaks of all his people. Ink crawled from his chest to the base of his neck, both legs, but for the right shin currently in action, covered in small embellishments.

The fact that this experience was mundane was exceptional to me. To observe someone as they are imprinted with marks they will carry for life felt intimate. I am sure a bond was forged between McGregor and me. I like to think that when he looks at that particular tattoo of a rose on his shin, he remembers the ginger student who came to visit, and smiles wistfully.

Why are you smiling?” his partner would ask.

Oh, no reason…” he would respond, as his eyes glaze over with the weight of memory, and he is forced to collect himself momentarily as the inevitability of aging is once again made clear. Ink may remain under the skin, but the body will die and the cells decompose. No true permanence for us, humans.

I let the conversation flow, not directing it in any particular direction, but simply providing a perimeter. If someone hopped over a wall or crossed a boundary, I would not hunt them down aggressively, but gently, kindly, scoop them up and drop them back in the zone.

I didn’t speak much, is what I’m trying to say.

We talked about Beckham, childhoods all three, pain and love, death and hope. Ink and art, a sense of loss.

Tattooing is a subtle art - to meaningfully carve a fully conscious canvas requires nuance and a firm grasp. There was something in the Artist’s work, a dislocated but intense focus. The brain and hand fully intent, the rest of his being able to maintain the flow of interaction.

We are physical animals with needs that stem. Tattooing is a meeting point for our biology and culture - a physical attempt to show humanity in our nature.

Ink in my gun, ink in my skin.

McGregor knew this without saying, his tacit nods and meaningful grunts said as much. Occasionally, the pain would write itself across his face and he would shuffle or adjust. Largely though, he was at peace.

Slowly, I got what I came for - a series of insights and quotes that could be neatly packaged up into an undergraduate dissertation and wilfully misinterpreted.

As I left the shop, I mumbled my thanks and gave both him and the Artist an amicable nod. The whole exchange lasted less than 30 minutes. I never returned.

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Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

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