Yesterday I lost one of my few remaining virginities: I got tattoos. A simple procedure for most; more of a story for me. It’s the story of how the tattoos came to be in their final form and the thinking behind them. It’s the continuing story of me regaining independence, finding myself and expressing myself. Like all good writing, there is a sub-text in this story: an obvious one but one which I still practice conveying, for the parallels between real life and that which is imagined remain somewhat blurred. Don’t just give things a cursory glance: stop to think. Re-read and ask questions if necessary. Dare to confront things.
“One day soon I’m gonna tell the moon ’bout the crying game…”
I’m writing a book – three in fact – and today’s events have placed me well within one of my worlds: that of Bloodstained Knaves. That in itself is fine, as I do live my stories but today threw me straight into that book, having plucked me from The Inner Leviathan. I have been pulled out of a steam punk fantasy where things discover themselves and dumped in the middle of a post-Holocene world which struggles to find its own purpose.
The tattoos I’d chosen were typical and classic: my children’s names and dates of birth, one on each inner forearm. The tiny detail which makes an otherwise normal thing different and gives it a story is Helvetica. To my mind – and that of my tattooist – the application of a specific font lifted the tattoos beyond the typical and has produced a classic. Having spent most of my former working life in print, ink runs through me like blood. I remain a zombie, bitten by the great institution which was once the corporate finance print dealing desks in the city of London. Never one to run away from my past, like the safety pin in my ear as a nod towards punk, I am free to express myself, now in print upon my person. I need to be reminded.
Obviously a tattoo is indelible. It is a permanent reminder, not only of what is there but of what led to it being there: both a process. Some tattoos are in themselves a permanent reminder of something which perhaps shouldn’t have happened. They are there though, for that which has happened cannot be undone, one of many philosophies and paradoxes explored in my debut novel. That and so many other things, as I continue to learn for myself, as the author, what that book was all about. During my hour or so spent in the tattooist’s studio, he and I discussed the subjects which I only touch upon in the book, in fairly lengthy detail. It was an engaging conversation which distracted from what may otherwise have been a rather mundane hour or so. Because the fact is, tattoos don’t hurt. Were it not for the tattoo artist verbally interacting with me, I might have drifted off. Perhaps to another world; maybe to this one, which is gaining pace, away from all but that which matters.
“Helvetica is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with input from Eduard Hoffmann…” You’ll see it all around you, if you look.
My world continues to evolve, the meteor storms which used to disrupt it, now merely an itch from a healing cut to the skin. The tattoos are my message to myself, as well as a sign to others. They are my past and now my future. They are a constant reminder of where I came from and what I did. The amount of thought which went into using the Helvetica typeface ought to be evident in the results, as has been noted by the few who have seen the two pieces of art which now adorn my arms. Because in specifying a font, I set the tattooist a challenge, perhaps not immediately obvious in the finished products. But the tattoos are not conventional. The story is what is hidden, behind the final product but upon gaining appreciation of that very thing, the observer immediately grasps the unseen craftsmanship that went into it.
I questioned my artist about his trade. I took an interest in it, as he did mine. The tattoos have taken on an even greater value now that I know what that guy did to produce them. By requesting a specific typeface, which is not one of those usual to names and dates of births, I had unknowingly denied the tattooist the use of a template. He had to download the Helvetica font, study every character which made up my tattoos and recreate them as hand-drawn art. By his own admission, each character was a challenge because they would all have to stand up to my scrutiny as someone familiar with print, design and typefaces. From my point of view, I wanted the lettering to be recognisable for what it is by others in the know.
My tattooist has proven himself to be a true artist because what he has produced on my arms are exactly as I imagined, through the expression of text alone. By using Helvetica. What I now have is something which is clearly a tattoo but which is essentially a computer font. Therefore, my tattoos look as though they were stencilled, branded, or printed directly onto me. Alternatively, they are a projection of dark light onto flesh. They really are a little disconcerting to the more enquiring mind, because they shouldn’t be there but were there all along: look at me, my marks and my writing, and question.
The tattoos are on public display but they’re intimate and personal: a million punctures in my skin, in order to display my patriarchal pride. Tattoos join body piercings and writing to make a trinity of personal expression. The tattoos add to a character, like one of the protagonists in Bloodstained Knaves, who young girls gravitate towards: an atheist, anarchist free spirit, who lives in a dangerous world full of things which the girls find enticing: drink, drugs, sex and violence; a cradle of filth. Photos of the place people come and of my tattoos are on my Facebook and Instagram pages.
Now I need to extricate myself from that world and place myself once more in the steam punk world of The Inner Leviathan, for that is the book which is flowing best. A few short stop offs on the way though, to finish some pulp fiction and short stories for print: Master Yehudi’s Space Circus, Mechanical Manacle and the fifth in the Paradox series, The Paradox of Perception. The fourth in the series is due for publication in Schlock webzine in two weeks, once the serialisation of the novel has finished its run.
Even before then, I have the pleasure of the company of one of my kid sisters today, while we sort out a prison visit and various other matters in her life. Next weekend I’ve facilitated a visit for one of the other youngsters. I shall be host to seventeen year old girls, who come here for all that this place has to offer, including somewhere to crash. They come here because it’s a cool place and somewhere they can they almost brag about having been because few get in.
Quiet most of the time and usually needing me only for the things which their real parents won’t or can’t give them, it’s always nice to get a random message from one of the girls. One of them took the trouble to text me yesterday, simply to say how sorry she was that she couldn’t see me, that she missed me and that she was still my little girl. I felt appreciated and proud of that young lady. Like all of them, if she needs me, she knows where I live.
The girls are relevant because, even though I don’t have their names tattooed upon my person, because they’re not my real children, the ones I’ve spoken to have expressed delight in the tattoos. Those girls don’t belong on my arm but they are present elsewhere in my body. They’re neither in my blood nor my ink but they are in my written words and therefore one of my trinity of self expression.
The tattoo bug will bite me too and I already have the next one planned: the family emblem; the pink heart. On my left hand, of course.