I guess my tattoo story begins with my parents. Fads, wants and desires begin somewhere. Instead of rebelling against society and deciding that a tattoo would be the height of social mayhem, I grew up knowing that some people were tattooed and some people weren’t. It wasn’t really a big deal at all.
I got my ears pierced for the first time when I was 10 years old. When I was 16 I wanted to get them pierced a second time. My mom was adamantly against this. She told me that if I wanted to get a tattoo she would take me down to a parlor herself so that I could have one done but I sure as hell was not getting another pair of holes in my head until I turned 18. I’m not sure if this is because she knew I wouldn’t call her bluff, but I did start planning my tattoo that day. I’ve almost finished it, too. It’s going to be a wonderful Celtic cross to represent my heritage, with a flowering apple blossom branch to represent my immediate family behind it. Five years of planning have gone into this idea and I’m absolutely sure of where I want it.
This, however, is not the tattoo I have.
I learned some very valuable tattoo lessons from my parents. Don’t get anything stupid was number one. Number two was that it hurts like hell, so why go through all the pain for something stupid? Number three was location, location, location. There are two reasons location is important. The first is that while becoming more mainstream, tattoos are still frowned upon by employers. Neither of my parents have visible tattoos when they’re out in the workforce. This ties into the second part of the reason. A tattoo is for yourself. If no one else in the world could ever know that you had a tattoo and you would still be happy with it, then you know that you made the right decision. These two lessons rule out places like your back, your neck, your forearms and your forehead.
This past summer I went to the field school to Iceland offered by the Icelandic department. On a side note, I recommend this experience to everyone. It was absolutely amazing. Continuing with our story, I met someone who would become a really good friend of mine on this trip. We seemed to ‘click’ automatically. And while I had it in the back of my head that it would be a really neat and unique experience to get a tattoo in Iceland, I dismissed the idea as being too irrational. I’m not very good with spontaneity. So my friend and I were walking down one of the main streets of Reykjavik one day. My friend, the proud owner of several tattoos already, said something to the effect of “Hey! Let’s get tattoos while we’re in Iceland!” Just like that I was sold on the idea.
I would like to point out that getting tattoos overseas and even here in Canada can be dangerous because of the risk of hepatitis C and other infections if the studio and materials used by the tattoo artist are not clean. So we did our homework. We visited multiple parlors and talked to several tattoo artists. We were upfront about what we wanted to do with both our instructors and our trip mates. This was a great decision because we were given a firsthand recommendation to a tattoo parlor where one of our trip mates had gotten a tattoo done before.
The place having been decided upon, we rushed over after one of our daytime excursions to book appointments. Every shop in Reykjavik closes at 6 p.m. We booked appointments for our free day in two days time. The waiting between making the appointment and getting inked was terrible. It was kind of like being three days away from Christmas and having to get a tooth pulled at the dentist the next day at the same time. I couldn’t decide if I was really excited or dreading it.
As for what my tattoo was going to be, it was surprisingly easy to decide. I’ve always loved mythology, Norse mythology in particular. And I’ve known for sometime that I was going to be tattooed. Mythology. Tattoo. Mythology. Tattoo. I guess this takes away a lot of the spontaneity that I’m so proud of but I’m very happy with my decision. I chose to have the Midgard serpent or the world serpent. The world serpent is supposedly the offspring of the god Loki and a giantess. The story goes that Odin threw the serpent into the ocean where the serpent grew so large that he was able to encompass the Earth and latch onto his own tail. When the serpent lets go of his tail it will be the end of the world and the final battle between the gods and the giants. With an amazing story like that how could I not choose the world serpent?
I modeled it on an Urnes style broach, which had been excavated in Norway, replicas could be found in gift shops. The Urnes style is the last style of Viking art before art blended into Christianity. It is found between the years 1050 and 1150 and features many stylized curves and mythical creatures like serpents and dragons. The broach also looks quite similar to a Celtic knot, which was another reason it appealed to me. As for the location, I really like the inside of the wrist but because that seemed too visible; I decided on the inside of my ankle instead.
When the time finally came to get our tattoos, my friend and I went in together. My friend went first and had the rune Eska, or love, done. It was a small piece and took hardly any time at all. She only flinched a couple of times, which seemed promising. When it was my turn, my friend held my hand as the needle started doing its work. If anyone ever tells you that tattoos don’t hurt, you only need to know one thing: they’re lying. Apparently I gave my friend a ‘look of death’ as the needle started to bite into my skin. It got better as I got used to it though certain spots where the artist passed over bone were excruciating. In just under an hour the both of us were done. We stopped at the grocery store to pick up unscented lotion and then treated ourselves to Subway in celebration.
The healing went fairly well. The tattoo scabbed. I made sure to gently wash it in the shower and slowly the scab fell away. We started putting lotion on them after a couple days to keep the skin moisturized. It was amazing how much more vivid the colours became as time went by. The only downside to them was a slight discomfort when we hiked in the West Fjords. Despite that, I was utterly thrilled with the whole experience.
I was a little worried coming home. I could practically hear the word ‘dumbass’ in my head. It sounded very much like my parents’ voices. Who gets tattooed overseas anyways? What if there were latent problems waiting to jump out of my skin after I got home? I calmed my anxieties by reminding myself that I’d done my homework when it came to choosing a tattoo parlor and besides, my tattoo was looking great. My friend suggested if I was nervous about showing it to my parents that I hide it from them. The only problem with that was that knee socks for the rest of the summer sounded really unappealing. So I bit the bullet and showed my mom the next morning. She was thrilled with it. Go figure. My dad still doesn’t know what it is but I think he’s just teasing.
Now that I have my tattoo I do kind of feel that I jumped on a bandwagon. It seems like everyone is getting a tattoo. I do feel better when I think about what it means to me. The individual significance of a tattoo is what will forever make it unique. I love mine. In the end that’s really all that matters.