Monday, June 5, 2017

Pursue that which sets your soul on fire

When I studied abroad in Italy back during 2008, my first time ever in Europe, I nearly got a tattoo.  Never has getting one interested me otherwise.  Most certainly I am not even close to being a "tattoo person."  Sometimes I think they can look really neat.  Artsy, cool or elegant if they are meaningful, unique and tasteful.  But a lot of the time, I think they end up looking generic, kind of ugly, cheesy and/or trashy.  

In Italy, the point would have been to symbolize that majorly awesome, awe inducing, unforgettable experience.  I wanted a small Fleur de Lis on my ankle, even making my way to a tattoo studio with a friend but chickened out at the last minute.

Fleur de Lis

Ive never regretted not getting one, per say.  As I said, not a tattoo person.  Never have I been someone who has ever though or commented, "man, I want a tattoo someday."  But a small part of me wishes I had gone ahead with it back in Italy.  Purely for the symbolic value and commemorartion of that experience, which was a game changer.  I can see now in retrospect that that experience strongly contributed to my ending up living here in Europe now.

So, after much thought and internal debate, I booked an appointment roughly 5 months ago to get one here.  With my upcoming move back to the US, this felt like possibly the only moment I would want one (and if I didn't get one here, likely never would otherwise).  A means to symbolize the huge, life changing chapter of my life spent over here.  All that I have experienced, as well as all that I have become and grown into. 

I set forth thinking it over carefully.  Hours of thought going into it.  What exactly I wanted that would symbolize this huge chapter of growth and adventure of my time spent in Europe.  Changing my mind at least 7 or 8 times over the last couple months of deciding what I wanted.  Both the quote itself, where I wanted it on my body, and did I want an image/picture alongside of it or just the quote by itself.

My final decision was based both on a culmination of close friends thoughts regarding a quote that is "totally Brooke," while also tying in and symbolizing this entire chapter of my life abroad in Europe.  The one I settled on, I believe, fits the bill.  I love it.  It fits with my general life mantra and how I choose to live my life.  I also think it fits "Brooke" in the eyes of those who know me.  And it certainly fits in with what I did in moving to Europe, and all that I saw, experienced and discovered over here.

The wording I settled on is: Pursue that which sets your soul on fire.

Now, onto the actual experience of getting this wording tattooed on my body.

I arrived at the studio for 5:30pm this past Friday night, June 2.  I left work, hopped on the train and headed straight there.  The sun was shining, the air warm, about 80 degrees out.  Voo, my tattoo artist, a cute, skater boy-ish, blonde, blue eyed, tattoo covered German guy was waiting with a print out of what he had created for me.  The initial quote "Pursue with intent that which sets your soul on fire," in looping, whimsical, elegant script.  (Initially I included the words "with intent" as well). 
I liked it, but.  He had split it into two lines.  Like so:

Pursue with intent that
which sets your soul on fire

One above the other.  Almost a box of sorts.  Yet I had originally wanted a quote in a long string, one line down my arm.  I love the way that looks.  He told me this quote was too long for that though.  It wouldn't fit.  So it had to be split in two.

We discussed it together for a good 15 minutes.  I made comments and gave him thoughts on the script style as well as size of the quote, wanting it a bit smaller please I said.  He was great.  Very easy going, warm, friendly but also offering constructive feedback, which of course I wanted since he knows how it will come out and what will likely be best.  He told me what would look good and what wouldn't, what he would recommend, etc.

He told me he needed five minutes to make the changes I wanted (slightly smaller script and fixing one word.  He had spelled the word "which" wrong initially, having written it as "wich").  Thank the lord I caught that one.  The perils of getting a tattoo in a foreign country where your first language is not the same as their first language. 

I stood outside in the sun for five minutes while he got everything ready inside the shop, needing the fresh air.  I noticed my breathing was growing a bit ragged.  My hands were shaking a bit and feeling slightly light headed.  I was starting to feel anxious.  Did I really want this?  What if it looked awful?  What if I regretted it?  What if it looks trashy?  What if the pain is unbearable and I cant get through it?  I started second guessing, big time.  Considering going inside and telling them I just couldn't go through with it.  That I had changed my mind.

He called me back in and showed me the new print.  Still two lines, but with slightly smaller font.  I gave the thumbs up, so we went to the back room together where he calmly set forth laying out his tools.  I sat on the swiveling bar stool next to him, asking a torrent of nervous questions.  I apologized, telling him I was extremely nervous, so to please forgive my potentially annoying questions.  The needle was clean, yes?  I asked.  He would use very black ink, right?  But maybe we should make it smaller?  He couldn't, he said, or the ink would bleed in a couple of years and not look good.  This was the smallest he could go.  Ok, all good, I jabbered on.

Finally he was ready.  I stood in front of him, as instructed, while he sat on the stool in front of me.  Asking me to raise my arm, he shaved a small section of it.  Rubbed Vaseline on it.  Then a thin layer of glue on my arm.  After which taking the print he had made of the tattoo and pressed it against my arm, instructing me not to move.  He was methodical, working carefully and with attention to detail.  Using his pen to make sure the tattoo was properly aligned.  Holding my arm just so.  With the print transferred to my arm, I looked in the mirror.

I really liked it, but something in me hesitated, though initially I didn't say anything about it.  I told him I liked it, chiding myself about my internal hesitation.  You're just being overly nervous.  That's the only reason you're hesitating, I told myself.  I climbed onto the long table where he told me to lie down.  Laid on my stomach, left arm extended down alongside of my body.  He put the tattoo gun in his hand and was literally within mere seconds of starting before I said, "wait, wait, wait.  Hold on."  I sat up.  "Maybe we should take out a couple of words.  I don't know...what do you think?"  I asked him.  Nervous.  Unsure.

"Of course, we can do that if you prefer.  But will the wording still make sense if we remove a couple words?"  He asked.

"Yes," I told him, my confidence and certainty increasing. 

"I just, I really want it to be in one long line down the length of my arm.  That's what I originally wanted.  So if we can, I would prefer it as one string of text.  Not the two lines on top of each other, you know?  So yes, lets remove two words.  We can remove the words "with intent."  Will that make it possible to be just one line then?"

(How funny is that?  The two words I was so sure "needed" to be there, the words "with intent," to convey the full meaning of the quote for me were axed.  But somehow, removing them felt more right and actually, I like the wording better now).

He was again, great.  Really patient, easy going and warm about all of it.  I sat on the stool again, a whoosh of relieved breath coming out of me while he set about changing it once more.  I realize this is totally Brooke.  Changing my mind multiple times, especially down to the wire.  Making all sorts of minute changes, requests, alterations, and then upending it all right before the big moment to change it completely yet again.  And quite often, going back to what I originally wanted in the first place.

The quote fixed, he reapplied Vaseline to my skin, the glue and pressed the quote back onto my arm, transferring the writing from paper to arm once more.  This time I looked in the mirror and thought, yes.  Exactly.  That is what I wanted.

Gone was the quivering sense of unease and worry about it.  Gone was the anxious, terrified voice in the back of my head whispering, no, no, that isn't quite it.

I laid down once again on the long table, stomach down, left arm extended alongside of my body.  The buzz of the tattoo gun came to life behind me, upon which I muttered, "my god, holy shit.  So this is nuts.  I cannot believe I am actually doing this."

I took deep breaths, waiting for the pain, no idea what to expect.  I asked, "could you please hold my arm down?  Just in case?  Thank you.  I appreciate that." 

He laughed, "of course, but you wont need that, you'll see.  Its not so bad." 

I waited, several long beats, the buzzing sound filling the small room.  Like the peskiest of wasps just by my ear.  And then I felt it.  And here's a surprise.  Initially I thought, seriously?  Thats it?  It was the subtlest of pinches.  I thought, oh man, if this is as bad as it gets, I was a ridiculous loon for freaking out on the inside over this like I did.  How silly.  This would be a piece of cake.  A couple nights of lost sleep over this while leading up to it, totally unnecessary.  Damn, this is great, I thought.

Well.  Someone should have come in and said, hold on a minute there.  Not so fast, Brooke.  It didn't stay quite that pain free for the entire time.  There were several moments when, as I felt his pen drawing the looping script, it felt like a pretty intense bee sting.  A burning pinching.  A couple moments when it felt like a sharp ballpoint pen dragging itself across my skin.  So much so that I sucked in a sharp intake of breath once or twice and had to begin talking to myself out loud (over which I couldn't care less that he could hear me talking to myself hahaha). 

Consisting of phrases like, "holy shit, wow.  That hurts pretty bad.  Dang.  Good god, that is painful, wow.  Oh man, that's intense."  That was along the lines of my running string of commentary during the more painful moments.

BUT, with that said?  Even during the most painful parts, while I was saying those things out loud?  (Which I found to be really helpful actually, being able to speak it out loud and express it.  This reaction coming natural to me as a response).  Even during the worst moments, as I was lamenting how much it hurt, I was smiling a bit.  A small grin on my face even while saying, "oooo wow, got damn, that really hurts.  Holy.  Whew."  I don't think the smile left my face, so in awe that I was actually doing this. 

I also found it helpful facing the wall, away from him and from the tattooing.  I didn't look once during, nor did I want to.  Just took deep breaths, alternating between watching the wall and closing my eyes several times. 

After about 10 minutes, he paused for a moment.  I asked, "is it done?" 

"No, that's about halfway," he told me.

"Seriously???"  I said.  "Wow, damn.  Well, that's alright," I said, taking a deep breath.  I could handle it, but still, whew, a few moments had been a tad intense.  Only halfway was a slight bummer though.  The pain is 100% bearable and able to be handled, no problem (and this is coming from the worlds biggest baby with regards to pain and needles.  I get dizzy and short of breath whenever getting blood drawn at the doctor.  For 3+ years after having gotten my belly button pierced, whenever changing the ring, I got dizzy, sick to my stomach and had to look away.  Unable to even look when putting in a different belly button ring!  Now THAT is silly haha) . 

But nonetheless, even though it was absolutely and totally do-able, there were some moments that were acute.

"Nah, I'm just kidding," he said.  "All finished."

I laughed.  "Really?  Ok, awesome!  Whew."  I said, sitting up.

I stumbled over to the mirror.  A big smile on my face as I looked.

I think it totally fits me.  The quote symbolic of exactly what I did in moving over here to Europe in the first place.  As well as one of my major life mantras.  Pursuing what sets your soul on fire.  I think its basically the way to live your fullest life, really.  Life is short.  Fleeting.  Rushing by.  You must live it intentionally every day.  Choosing to spend your time with people and on things that light you up inside.  That bring you joy, fulfillment and satisfaction.  That are the best use of your time and heart, as time itself is ticking. 

So, that is now on my arm :-D :-D  "Pursue that which sets your soul on fire."  In whimsical, looping, elegant black script.

And afterwards?  I left the tattoo parlor with plastic wrapped and taped around it, which he told me to leave on for 2 hours.  Basically a plastic bag on my arm.  That attracted several curious glances.  Stepping out into the still sunshine filled streets, I looked back and forth in each direction thinking, damn, I feel great.  Now, what do I feel like doing?  I stood, considering, feeling wonderful, elated. 

You know what, I am going to go to the library I decided.  And so I did.  With a plastic bag on my slightly throbbing arm, newly etched in black ink.  Heart pumping with satisfaction and adrenaline.  I went and calmly perused the aisles of books.  Feeling serene, happy and at peace inside.  Totally enjoying myself. 

I did that for about 20 minutes before the library closed.  While exiting the library, it began down pouring.  So I waited underneath the awning with about 30 other library-goers.  With my newly drawn-on arm swathed in plastic, I didn't really want to run out into the rain which I would have done otherwise with no issue.  Ten minutes later, it stopped.  I strode to the train station, hopped on and headed home. 

I felt like a bad-ass walking out of the tattoo studio.  I thought, you just did that.  How crazy and cool.  Not letting your fear (of which there was much) stop you.  Upping and moving to Europe alone, despite it scaring the shit out of me.  Have built a pretty incredible and awesome life here.  Jumping out of a plane once, terrifying but one of the most awesome things ever.  Digging deep into the innermost parts of myself, gathering up all my courage in order to leave one of the people I have loved the most in this world.  Despite knowing it was the right thing, this was hands down one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Those are a few of the huge ones, but there have been many more on a smaller scale. 

So now, this one adds to the list.

Somayeh, one of my best friends here in Germany left me a pretty awesome audio message (in response to one I sent her Friday morning, worrying about the upcoming tattoo experience that very evening).  What if the pain was unbearable?  What if it looked awful or trashy?  etc.  Voicing several of my anxieties to her.  (She has one small tattoo herself).  She responded in the most awesome of ways. 

"Brooke," she began.  "If you had asked me three years ago, should I get a tattoo?  I may have said no, I don't think it fits so much to your character.  But now?  My answer is different.  I am so excited for you to get this.  I think it totally fits you.  You have changed SO much in the time I have known you.  Completely.  I've watched you become way more outspoken, much braver, really comfortable with yourself.  You have changed totally in the time I have known you.  And you absolutely go after the things that light your heart on fire, totally.  I don't think it will look trashy at all.  One, because you don't look trashy in the first place.  And second, I just don't think its a trashy or cheesy tattoo.  I think it will look elegant, sexy and edgy on you."  Then she reassured me about the pain, saying yes it hurts but its totally manageable.  Her audio was the best thing I heard all day with regards to filling me with confidence, a peace of mind and excitement.

So.  There is now a tattoo on my arm.  Slightly disorienting and taking some time to get used to that its there permanently.  That it wont just wash away in the shower in a few days.  I keep glancing at it in the mirror, a grin spreading across my face as I look.  I love it.  I think its very "Brooke."  The script style, the quote itself, and love the location on my body I picked.  All of it, great.

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