Tuesday, December 15, 2009

these ain't your grandfather's mods

Our bodies, and the way we see them, are changing. Cochlear implants, LASIK eye surgery, prosthetic everything – medical technology has gradually been getting us accustomed to the idea that the body is something we shouldn’t fear tinkering with. This, in turn, almost certainly has an effect on the way modern society views body modification. In the eyes of some traditional-minded individuals, tattooing and piercing are wrong because they betray the anatomical design granted to us by the Creator. Despite the obvious problems with utilizing this belief as an argument against modding (uhhh, makeup, braces, fake nails…) mothers, grandmothers, and conservative Christians everywhere love to utilize it as a justification for their disdain for mods. Rather than making even the slightest attempt to understand why the kids love modding so, the whole concept is immediately dismissed as wrong by an outdated, closed-minded vision of the human body as a finished product. But this may be changing.
The reasons we acquire body modifications are quite varied, ranging from simple fulfillment of aesthetic predilections to reminding one of a lost family member to rebellion against societal standards of appearance. What remains the same in each case, however, is that the mods provide a vehicle through which to improve our lives. Because the effects of modding are so personal and unique to the mod-bearer, plainskins may have a hard time accepting that mods have any value whatsoever. To them mods are a waste of time, money, and previously pristine skin. But now that modifications of the human body have become a new and exciting area of medical and scientific innovation, that view may be on the way out. Functional body mods have been in the news quite a bit recently, most prominently on gadget blogs like Gizmodo, which is currently featuring a set of articles based around the increasingly cyborgian nature of the modern human. One particularly interesting mod is the newfangled LED tattoo (and another one...), which is actually made up of electrodes that are mounted on silk and embedded underneath the skin. The electrodes have the ability to link up with variety of electronics, allowing for endless possible applications of this wild innovation. Think GPS screens on your wrist, no-fuss blood sugar tests that present results right on your skin, and even a built-in cell phone that appears in LED tattoo form with the simple touch of an inner elbow. Phew. There’s also the man with the bionic sphincter, who wields a remote that allows him to engage and release his sphincter muscle at will with the help of electrodes attached to the sphincter muscle nerves. I can’t imagine how grateful this guy must be for living in a time of such brilliant advancements in the fields of science and medicine.

Now, despite the fact that these new developments in the realm of functional body modification are improving lives, not everyone will agree with them. And if even professionals are still being greeted with skepticism, then surely mod-lovers and the talented practitioners who make their mods possible will continue to catch flack for doing what they love. But we must remember, altering the way an entire society feels about a particular issue doesn’t happen overnight. The slow, agonizing process of change can take decades, even centuries to fully take shape. The good news is that every lil’ bit helps. The increased prevalence of functional body mods is a virtual stepping stone to eventual social acceptance of aesthetic body modification. Not that we neeeed to be accepted - it’s just that, once people become comfortable with an idea, they can finally move past the preconceptions and find their way to a genuine understanding.
I think body modification is fucking fascinating. From pointed ears to pierced ears, whether functional, beautiful, or just plain shocking, mods are important to the owners of the bodies they grace. And that is as good a reason as any reexamine one's opinion of 'em.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Facial Tattoos: The Last Frontier

Maybe it's the fact that I live in as laid-back a place as San Francisco, but it seems like even full sleeves don't evoke a second look these days. Tattooing has officially gone mainstream, and the sole alternative survivor is the facial tattoo. It's (no pun intended) an in-your-face mod only undergone by A) individuals employed within the body modification industry, B) people who are honestly positive that they can handle looking in the mirror to see their inked design for as long as their eyes remain properly functioning, and C) idiots. Facial tattoos are a big fucking deal - you gotta think that shit through, moreso than buying a house or getting a dog or even getting married. Shit's serious.No matter the motivation for acquiring facial ink, people with such tats are indiscriminately regarded in most social situations as total freaks. Sure, tattoos are all in good fun at this point in history, but when they're located on one's face they seem to take on new meaning. I happened to catch an episode of Tattoo Highway on A&E recently, and as it turns out two 'stars' of the series sport facial tattoos. The host/main tattooist, Thomas Pendelton, rocks the more controversial mug ink of the two - an upside-down cross just below his right eye. This symbol of rebellion is balanced nicely by an Aum (Om) symbol on his left cheek, but judging from past experiences as a modded individual people probably glaze right over the peaceful piece and focus on what can be interpreted as a demonic or anti-Christian statement. Seeing this bold statement broadcast on national TV made me wonder - are facial tattoos on the way into the mainstream?Kat Von D's may be the very first facial tattoos ever seen by some folks. Although more cosmetic than artistic (if that distinction can be made), her stars would certainly be considered a social faux pas if not for her celebrity status and career of choice to legitimize 'em. But there she is, in the limelight, loved, respected and praised for both her talent and her appearance. Now with Pendelton in the public eye as well, proudly sporting his teardrop-esque tats, I'm wondering if visage graffitied folk of the non-celeb variety will benefit from a gentler reception of their ink by the general public...Well, first off there are a few basic problems to get in the way of this change of heart becoming a reality, the most obvious of which being that not everyone gets A&E and TLC. For those who don't, and have thus been only minimally (if ever) exposed to facial tats, the sight of one in real life would probably evoke utter bewilderment and instinctual disdain. Facial tats bad. Facial tats scary. The same goes for those who do indeed get the channel but would never dream of tuning in to a television program based on an immature, unnecessary practice that betrays the sanctity of the human body. Also, generally speaking, stereotypes and mental associations die hard. Try looking at a swastika and not seeing it glow with evil and hatred. Facial tats are a symbol, and the implication is not good.
Still, there are wholesome families out there gettin' their Art and Entertainment on, gathering 'round the tube to tune in and find out where Pendelton and his crew will venture next or what sappy stories will accompany this week's LA Ink tats. Will the grip of history's disdain for tattoos finally loosen for them, allowing the true beauty of ink to slowly seep into their brains and hearts? I'm hopeful about the potential for a generally positive social perception of tats, but let's face it, they are, for the most part, still only understood by a small majority of this Earth's population. Even a hand tattoo could ensure your long-term unemployment, especially in this hurr recession. It'll probably be quite awhile before facial tattoos are a common feature of the urban landscape, but until then, celebs like Pendelton and Kat Von D can't be hurtin' the odds.
I've always wondered what types of negative reactions those with facial tattoos have actually received from people they encounter in public. One would expect a few mishpas with baby boomers and the like, but what about exchanges with children, or with ignorant mofo's who think facial tats are (as they are in some cultures) meant to be a sign of one's mana, power, status, and try to start trouble with them? How bad does it really get?
Lucky for me, San Francisco is home turf for every variety of alternative/subculturally immersed/weird/creative/unique individuals, so I had no problem finding an inked skull brimming with first-hand 411 on the topic.
Gotta be honest, I talked to this fella probably a month ago so I don't recall his name, but just imagine a dark-dreaded dude, tall and muscular, 30ish, sporting all varieties of leatherwear. Not the type of gear typically accompanied by a chain leash or a ball gag, but rather hand-made brown leather cuffs, goggles, pants...pretty much everything he was wearing was leather. I noticed he and his similarly leather-clad mamacita as they entered the park one afternoon, of course taking immediate notice of his beautiful blackwork facial tats. The couple smiled at me as they passed by, and of course I smiled back, acknowledging my appreciation for their wild appearance. I was doing interviews at the time, migrating from group to group gathering info on people's tattoos, and at one point noticed that they had settled into a shady spot under a palm tree, apparently lacing up some leather stuffs. As I was looking over they noticed me and called me over, probably because I grinned my goofy grin at them upon eye contact. I sat down and they were immediately welcoming, telling me all about their leather goods and their "gypsy" lifestyle. I was pretty blunt with the dude, telling him that I'd never met anyone with facial tats before and that I really loved his. They conformed to the anatomy of his face, beautiful curves and swirls everywhere. Definitely some well-done tats. He was super cool about answering all my questions, perhaps because he had never been openly asked about them. I'd think that most people would avoid acknowledging them altogether. Although plainskins can often be heard asking tatted folk "Oh golly, did that hurt?!", I bet they don't make any small talk with this dude. In any case, one interesting thing leatherman told me is that when he looks in the mirror his face just looks "right," and that he doesn't even pay notice to the ink anymore. "If I'm looking in the mirror it's usually to see if I have somethin' in my teeth or on my face, ya know?" Most facially pierced peeps and their loved ones can probably identify with this phenomenon - after awhile the metal just becomes another feature of your everyday appearance!
I felt a bit awkward asking him the next question, but I'm not quite sure why. I wanted to know if it was common for him to get shocked reactions from people he encounters on the streeet. Maybe I didn't wanna imply that he looked like a freak - which, I mean, I think he looks great but if I took him home to Connecticut to meet my mom she would absolutely flip her shit. Dude was, of course, totally cool about answering - he basically said that he doesn't get too many crazy reactions, but that he doesn't pay much attention to what other people think so perhaps he just fails to notice the elderly women fainting all around him as he walks the city streets. Makes sense, I mean, if you're gonna go so far with satisfying your desire for a strikingly unique appearance as to have it permanently cemented into your flesh, you better have some thick skin (too easy...) to go with it. I really respect that. Not giving a fuck is, ironically, a mindstate that takes a strong mind to attain.
We hung out for a bit longer, but after my initial inquiries I chilled out with the drillage. I was content just enjoying the couple's company, and although the opportunity was ripe for me to really deconstruct what it's like to have facial tattoos, it was nice to just chill and chat. I haven't seen the dude since, but perhaps he'll drift my way again sometime and I can do a more in-depth follow-up. Until then I'm interested to see what new arenas tattooing will enter now that it's taken residency in the mainstream. It's already found its way into clothing, cosmetics, and, thanks to Ed "Sellout" Hardy, it's now in the water. Sickeningly trendy, yes, but the appearance of tattoos in so many facets of modern life surely serves to indirectly improve the face value of those with a tatted face. So, reluctant as I may be to accept shit like this...I guess I'll cosign. Ugh I just threw up in my mouth a little....

secondary source for my own work!

Hey y'allllllz
So, I've been cheating on you a little...
San Francisco has brought me unimaginably beautiful experiences and opportunities, one of which being an internship with Upper Playground. I've been writing for their web publication, the Citrus Report, and my newest piece is an interview with one of my very favorite modern tattoo artists, Jesse Smith!

Checkkit out here!

New MSOM-specific content soon, swearsies!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

reading between the line tats

So it's no newsflash that hipsters from Williamsburg to Seattle love them some tattoos. Bicycles, Twinkies, leather chairs...those kids will tattoo just about anything on them so long as it's obscure - just like their taste in music, film, and breakfast cereal - "Ever had Kaiji-hin O's? Shit's from Japan and has a hint of seaweed in every bite! Can't believe you've never heard of it..."
Anyways, since moving to San Fran I've seen my fair share of hipster tattoos, and have noticed a few trends despite all the diversity. One such trend is particularly intriguing: hipsters seem to love both a) ultra-detailed, super-saturated, photo-realistic tattoos, and b) on the extreme other end of the aesthetic spectrum, simple, plain, unembellished linework tattoos. You won't typically find both styles adorning the same individual, suggesting that these styles really reflect one's enduring aesthetic predilections. They damn well better - that full color rainforest sleeve is gonna be with you for a longggg time...
I'm personally a big fan of the more realistic breed of tattoos, as evinced by the spontaneous drooling that occurs when I visit the web galleries of such tattooists as Jesse Smith, Mike DeVries, and Jason Jacenko. But friends of mine are in love with those mysterious line tattoos...either simple geometric shapes or childlike drawings of flowers, hearts, birds....you've seen these, right? I first encountered this style of tattooing a few years ago upon visiting the webpage of Yann, a French tattooist with a truly distinctive artistic style. His tats resemble Kindergarten scribbles, but contain subtle details that unfailingly evoke a smile at the sheer silliness of it all. I can totally see the appeal of Yann's delightfully sketchy tats, but what about a tattoo like the plain square outline sported by a model in a Marc Jacobs ad (searched and searched but couldn't find an image!)? What the fuck, dude? Is it a commentary on how we've gotta start thinking outside the box about ways to fight global warming? Is it a d/l tribute to your beloved Macbook Pro? Is it just teeming with esoteric information about your inner self? Whether truly acquired for reasons existential or superficial, a tattoo like that can hold any number of meanings depending on who's asking. And surely people ask - with most tattoos one can simply infer the significance at least to some extent, but line tats beg to be inquired about.
I had always been curious about these inked anomalies, but never thought to question people with line tattoos about the significance of their designs or their affinity for a super-simple tattoo style...that is until now. Recently I spent a sunny afternoon in Dolores park unabashedly lowering my shades and inspecting every tattooed body in sight, and sure enough I found quite a few that were rendered in the style in question. As modders always are, the owners of these understated works of ink were happy to divulge some details about their affinity for simplicity.
My first interview was with a guy who goes by the name of Dante. His arms boast a total of three filled-in black rectangles, and spanning his back is a simple outline tattoo that resembles a pair of sword/wings. According to Dante, his rectangles were inspired by elemental tattoos he's seen, and represent "the void" as a simple element (however you wanna interpret that...). Now 26, he got the first of his rectangles when he was 18, acquiring the second set when he was 20. As for the locations, Dante gave an all too familiar explanation as to why he chose the spots he did for his rectangles - "Sometimes you just kinda know where you need the tattoo." He's an artist himself, and says he likes to "make art create itself," which has predisposed him to shun photo-realism in favor of abstraction. Over the course of our conversation he revealed increasingly cryptic ways of understanding his rectangle tattoos, explaining at one point with a slightly sinister growl that he sometimes sees them as "windows with only black on the other side." Dante believes that although not everyone's do, tattoos "should" have meaning to the wearer, and because of the symbolic nature of his tats that meaning doesn't have to be completely one-dimensional or remain consistent over time. Oddly enough, despite the "abstract personal significance" that Dante's tattoos have for him, one artist he approached refused to ink his second set of rectangles because he basically thought they were a waste of a tattoo. Fucking hardly - it was obvious from talking with Dante that he absolutely adores his tat, regardless of how anyone else sees or interprets them.
Next up was Peter, whose stunning red and black line tattoo caught my eye from across the park. "Damn, that looks like a Yann..." I thought to myself as I headed off in his direction, "...but it couldn't be, probably just some rip-off of his style..." But to my surprise, Peter's half sleeve was indeed inked by the fabulous Frenchy himself, and is a shining example of the incredible things dude can do with a few lines. The tattoo is Yann's interpretation of a portion of Picasso's "Guernica," and depicts a disembodied arm holding a broken sword that has a flower growing out of it. Peter explained that Picasso's original message in "Guernica" was an anti-aggression, anti-war statement that is still relevant today, and although not many people will recognize the tat as a political statement Peter is still proud to sport it.
In addition to being a reflection of Peter's political beliefs, his tat is also a reflection of his overall aesthetic affinities - "Generally I like simple aesthetics, just really minimalist-type stuff that still holds some power. I like that in all arts, music even and movies." Throughout our chat session Peter kept emphasizing that although simplicity may seem to imply a lack of depth, many works of art are strikingly powerful in their simplicity. He also mentioned, and I really appreciate his frankness in admitting this, that his attraction to simple tattoos is in part a reaction against the opposite trend in tattooing of acquiring painstakingly detailed pieces. This admission called to mind how in the 60s and 70s minimalism developed in opposition to abstract expressionism, adopting a "less is more" mentality. Peter also sports a Yann-inspired flower that was inked by a friend of his years before his genuine Yann piece, and though not so impressive as the "Guernica" tribute, is still a smile-inducing treat. Despite the fact that Yann is currently stationed in Montreal and currently has no plans of doing guest spots in the States, Peter says any future ink ventures of his will be conducted exclusively by Yann. Peter, please, for the sake of everyone with fully functioning vision, stay true to this promise and keep going back for more beautifully unique pieces of inked simplicity!
My next interview was quite impromptu, and actually occurred after I had left the park. I had stopped into a Whole Foods Market, and while getting rung up for some overpriced bread and cheese happened to notice that the cashier was sporting a very simple, black outline tattoo. In response to being asked why she chose a more basic tattoo style, she thought for a moment, then said "well, they're simple, but they're not." Simply stated, but her response conveys an oft-expressed sentiment amongst line tat canvases. Relating her love of simple tattoos with her affinity for simplicity in general, and referring specifically to children's movies, she said "It doesn't need to be this crazy CGI bullshit." She prefers 2-D comic book art, as well as the illustrations of both Tim Burton and Edward Gorey. Although relatively understated, both artists' work is quite dark and emotive despite its simplicity. She said it best..."they're simple, but they're not." Since she was working we didn't speak for long, but I really liked the way she struggled to explain her ineffable love for the unremarkably remarkable.
The next brain I picked was that of my good friend, Dor. The first words I ever spoke to him were about the line tattoos he sports on his left arm, which I obviously noticed as soon as he walked into the room. I was intrigued by the designs, and especially in my then-inebriated state couldn't help questioning him about them. One tat is a thin black line that begins just above the elbow and extends upward, culminating at his shoulderblade in a series of freehand curls meant to represent loose guitar strings and thus his love of music. The only other embellishment is a small, filled-in half circle that rests along the line at around its midpoint. The other tat begins with a tiny heart on his thumb that's connected to a single black line running the length of his forearm, accented by a treble-clef-ish swirl design just above the wrist. Dor drew both tats himself, and both were done by the same artist in his homeland of Israel. The first tattoo was originally going to be only one line, but while chatting with his tattoo artist after the line was completed both agreed that it needed a little something extra. After throwing out a few ideas they decided that the half circle and curls would work well, and went to it. Since both tats are uber-simple, I pressed Dor to try and analyze why exactly he's so attracted to minimalist tattoos. "I wanted something which is not gonna be something," Dor explained, continuing, "I don't want to be a sketchbook, I want to feel like the tattooist is putting art on me. [Tattoos] can be interesting, not just pictures of stuff you know." This got me thinking about the super-slippery meaning of the word "art." Take graffiti for example - what to one person is a breathtaking artistic wonder is to another an eyesore. Or cubism, which to some is a complex artistic style that truly engages the viewer, and to others isn't worth more than a hands-clasped-behind-your-back-pause-for-a-hot-second-then-continue treatment at the museum. For Dor, art is abstract, intangible, and plurally interpretable. It means whatever the fuck you want it to mean, as long it makes you happy when you look at it.
Contrary to Dor's conception of his tats, one park-dweller named Ben seemed to see his simple ink as not works of art but symbols. One of his tats is a dumbed-down version of the D.C. flag, another is a black linework rendition of the Hand of Fatima, a symbol used throughout history in both the Muslim and Jewish religious traditions, and the last is a set of elongated black rectangles meant to represent the twin towers, the attack upon which occurred while Ben was attending NYU. Each one represents a geographical location that holds significance for Ben, and he doesn't intend on straying from this format anytime soon. His next tattoo will be of the California coastline, minus all other details that might identify the squiggly line as a reference to his current state of residence. "I've got my style I guess," Ben said with a shrug. What's odd is that he claims to love full color sleeves on other people, but feels like he's "too boring" and "not creative enough" to come up with the concept for one of his own. Instead he acquires ink that's visually simple yet holds complex meaning.
So, I guess the main thing I've learned from talking to all these sketchbook kids is that you really can't judge a tat by its intricacy. A few black lines may indeed have more meaning and can indeed be more beautiful to some eyes than a photo-realistic tatted flower garden. You never know until you ask, and I for one am really happy I finally did. When I used to look at simple tats I would hear them scream, "Look at me, I'm different! I'm weird! I'm obscure! You totally wanna meet my owner..." - but I wasn't reading between the lines. And when it comes to simple tattoos, that's where the true message lies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the rules have changed

Well, here I am! After living out of a suitcase for three weeks, sleeping on couches and craigslisting my ass off, I can finally say that I'm a resident of San Francisco! I made it! And all my stuff finally did too - posters, photos, and everything else that makes me feel at home arrived just a few days ago in travel-worn cardboard boxes. Yay!
I'm still getting settled in here, learning the bus lines, trying to have a good time without going broke, all while waitressing about 6 days a week. But just as I expected, even with things as chaotic as they are, I've found plenty of time to write since I got here. Everything around me teems with wild and unique beauty, delighting my eyes and inspiring new ideas around every turn. I currently have one investigative piece in the works, but for now I'd like to address an issue that has likely hit home for every modified Albert and Christina out there. How do you have to un-modify your body to accommodate your workplace's dress code? Most of my managers in the past have been totally accepting of my mods, but my most recent job at Chili's in CT had a much stricter, corporation-dictated dress code that left no room for metal or ink of any kind on the dining room floor. For this reason, I wasn't sure what to expect at the new restaurant I'm working at in San Bruno. Would they be ok with my ever-changing candy-colored coif? My 3/4" plugs? The clear vertical labret retainer I usually wear to work? The calla lilies on my arm that peek out from short-sleeved shirts?
Before my first day of work I had to go in for a number of (stupid) evaluations which, supposedly, determine if I have the right stuff to be a server. After completing an SAT-reminiscent exam that evaluated my mathematic and linguistic ability, and a personality exam to ensure that I'm not a psychopath, I was subjected to a test in which a manager read off hypothetical restaurant situations and I had to respond with potential ways to handle them. Thankfully I passed all of the tests, and was handed a schedule with my name filled in for four shifts that week. Whoo, money!! Before I left, the manager gave a me a little rundown of the rules, including dress code. "I'm supposed to tell you that tattoos can't be showing," he told me with a grin, obviously implying that they have better things to worry about, like good service and happy customers, than some harmless ink. I scanned the restaurant and noticed a tattoo on one server's elbow, and another girl whose rolled up long sleeves revealed full tat sleeves. Things were looking good.
My first day of work came, and actually went pretty smoothly. The customers tipped well, I didn't mess up any orders, and the other servers were all pretty cool. In fact, nearly all of them wore some variety of facial piercing, from monroes to labrets to eyebrows. I began asking the servers about the piercing policy, and nearly all of them referred me to a poster in the office that laid out the (arbitrary) rules for "what's hot" and "what's not" when it comes to mods in the workplace. Here are a few shots of the poster that I stealthily snagged with my phone:
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the guidelines. The "no piercing over 16 gauge" rule ensured that I wouldn't have to wear that stupid retainer in my vertical labret anymore! Also, the wearing of band-aids over piercings, an unsightly practice required by many CT food service employers, is openly discouraged by the poster. I never understood the band-aid solution - a piercing is a piercing but a lump under a band-aid could be anything! It's distracting, unsanitary, and terrible for the piercing, especially if it’s relatively new.
According to my new manager the poster had been distributed not more than a year ago. So although a bit late, I commend Chili's for actually getting with the times and realizing that piercings and tattoos are incredibly common these days and that they don't carry the same connotations they have in the past. Well, apparently some still do, such as the septum piercing, which is specifically forbidden by the poster. However, although both full sleeves and large gauge ear piercings are supposedly "not hot,” they seem to be accepted without question in practice. This made me wonder, will updated guidelines continue to be released to keep up with changing trends and levels of social acceptability? Will the surface anti-eyebrow featured in one of the poster photos soon become the new hot accessory, merely a conversation piece rather than an extreme, shocking facial adornment? Who can tell…an amalgamation of media images, cultural norms dictated by peers, and personal experience combine to form our perceptions of what is socially acceptable in any given situation. Although we can all agree on what is appropriate in some situations, others will always be grounds for disagreement. Thus guidelines like those laid out in the poster will always be only one version of what's considered "acceptable" or "mainstream" in the realm of body mods.
For now, I’m more than happy with the minimal adjustments I have to make before going into work. I actually agree with the corporate opinion that my septum piercing should be hidden, and even when I was allowed to look however I wanted at my old cafĂ© job I didn’t wear it out. I don’t even notice it on myself anymore, but I realize that it is a bit distracting for other people, especially older folks.
San Francisco is such a wonderful environment to live in - every single day I see people on the street grinning like children, dressed like children, stumbling along like children. No one cares if you have a chocolate ice cream stain on your shirt or ropelike dreads for hair or a face full of tattoos - everyone is accepted here for who they are and what they choose to look like. Of course this place isn't some fantasyland utopia where everyone gets along, but it's pretty damn close. And I feel absolutely blessed that I'm getting the opportunity to be a part of it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

i'd never stare you wrong!

SO, big news in my life MSOMers! I'm moving out of CT and into SF: San Francisco! I've just recently returned from an apartment-scouting adventure there, and will be returning in less than two weeks to get myself set up! Dunno if all the !!!exclamation points!!! gave it away but I'm pretty fired up about this move - I've always stuck out like a sore thumb in my little suburban CT town, and although it's nice to stand out from the crowd, it sure as fuck isn't nice getting hassled about my look all the time when, to me, this is "normal." SO- yay! Wish me luck! And if you're out in Frisco yourself, hit me up!
In any case, one morning while I was in SF last week I decided that I realllly wanted some salmon eggs Benedict. I walked block after block, only finding no-frills diners and coffee shops along the way. I had already been walking evvverywhere for the past few days so my legs were super sore, and it was almost noon which meant that I was approaching scrooge status as a result of not yet having eaten breakfast. I finally gave up on trying to find a place that served the eggs Benedict and decided I would settle for anyplace with the word "Breakfast" in the window. Then, just when I thought all hope of finding myself some friggin' pancakes was lost, and was about ready to head into one of the kajillion taquerias in the Mission District and settle for lunch, I finally saw it: Boogaloos. It wasn't the delectable-looking food on the patio diners' plates that drew me in, nor the eggs Benedict - they didn't serve it on weekdays. What attracted me was the people - the lovely inked people. They were outside, waiting for tables; inside dining; and, best of all, waiting on tables! Ink ink everywhere, and not-a one looked botched. There was some top-notch shit on display! I immediately scribbled my name down on the waiting list and kicked back to take in the scene.
Nice tits...I mean tats....

The entire time I was at Boogaloos I enjoyed all the eye candy with shameless curiosity. I stared. Hard. At one point, when I was basically inches away from a girl about my age with colorful full sleeves, I suddenly realized I was treating her more like an art exhibit than a fellow human! Viewing her tats was indeed like a gallery exhibit opening - complete with the "artist" in attendance for the interrogational pleasure of her "fans." When I finally managed to break free from the trance her gorgeous work had put me in I took advantage of this opportunity and began to ask her about her ink - where had she gotten this one done? what exactly is this one? how long ago had she gotten that one done? its colors are still so vibrant!
During the rest of my stay in SF I saw a LOT of ink. Especially at Dolores park, a beer and ganja-fueled haven for hipsters, surfers, bikers, and families alike. I spent more than a few sunny afternoons camped out in the park with my Blue Moons, iPhone, and various reading materials close at hand, frequently stopping to just gaze around me and scope out mods. The temperature on these days held fast at around 70 degrees, which meant that afternoons in the park had a skimpy dress code, providing prime opportunities to both display and peep mods. All these mods out in the open got me thinking about the experience of being heavily modded, and how one must learn to endure/ignore the stares that their captivating adornments are sure to attract.
The question is, bottom line, is it appropriate to stare at mods? I do it all the time, and usually assume that if the wearer notices my intrigued expression they're probably just flattered that someone appreciates their work. But I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to make other people uncomfortable, so of course I've had moments of hesitation in which I think to myself "Hm, maybe they don't like being inspected like this, maybe it's distracting them or making them self-conscious..." Despite my concern, I usually decide that if the ink is quality, the wearer HAS to have anticipated being surveyed by both mod enthusiasts and mod skeptics alike. At least I'm of the former camp! And if the work isn't quality...well I think we can all agree that averting one's eyes is the best course of action in such cases - that'd be like staring directly at a massive zit on a stranger's face!
Personally, I get asked about my tats every single day at work. I always feel a bit odd giving the same rehearsed (not by choice!) explanation of my ink, but I don't think I've ever felt uncomfortable knowing someone is looking at my mods. I'm proud of each and every one of them, and would probably stare at the same tats on another person! Hm- now that I think about it, I wonder if my affinity for mods that adorn the back of my body is of any significance in terms of my (subconscious?) feelings about being looked at. Do I prefer to assume people are in awe of my Ukrainian egg-bedecked calves or my nape piercings (R.I.P.) rather than actually witness the (potentially horrified) inspection going down? Do these mods allow me to believe I'm ALWAYS being looked at, satisfying a hard-to-admit yet (presumably) natural desire for attention? To be honest, I definitely think so. This tidbit of personal introspection leads me to wonder if perhaps all modders like being looked at, even if the stares aren't always approving. If so, does that make us narcissistic? Or just human? Either way, if it is true that modders like being treated as pieces of fine art I guess I shouldn't feel so hesitant about staring! Good thing, 'cause now that I'll be residing in SF the inked eye candy is in no short supply! Yay!

Monday, March 02, 2009

pin me up, scotty

I recently happened upon this great Pin-Up Tattoo blog, inadvertently rekindling my love of the sultry images upon which the tats are based. I kinda forgot about pin-ups (a.k.a. cheesecake) for awhile, but now I can't stop looking at em! Pin-ups got their name during WWI and II when soldiers would tack photos of scantily clad, seductively posed women up in their bunks for some company on those lonely nights. Shortly thereafter artists such as Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren started making illustrations based on these types of photos, resulting in stunningly realistic and wall-worthy pin-up prints. Then one day some particularly lonely lad got sick of waiting till lights-out to be close to his imaginary lover and decided to get her image indelibly inked on his skin. Although the first pin-up tattoo probably didn't raise any...ahem...one's attention, or drop any jaws, the ones we see nowadays are like freakin' wearable softcore porn. Seriously -they're mind-blowingly realistic, and often very, very...hot.
Modern pin-up tattoos range from photo-realistic renderings of classic pin-up images to new school sexy zombies with blood-soaked tee-shirts. Each seems to reflect the particular tastes of its wearer, featuring the qualities that make up his or her ideal fantasy woman. Every pin-up is different, proving that contrary to the beliefs of Mattel and Vogue, there is no one "ideal female form." Now, the idea of pin-up tattoos as actually beneficial to womankind may seem a bit ass-backwards, but in my opinion, it's true! The same goes for the original pin-ups themselves, as they helped usher in an era of women who actually felt comfortable with their sexuality for once. Pin-ups sent the message that it was finally ok to be sexy and damn proud of it! Some may argue that "lewd" photos of women portray us as "sex objects" whose sole purpose is to provide men with pleasure. Pish posh, I say. As a wise woman once said "As long as I am an erotic subject, I am not averse to being an erotic object." Plus, these days, guys aren't the only ones who are utilizing the "male gaze" to ogle the ladies. I know that when I'm out with my girlfriends we always scope out the girls in the room. Hot legs...great hair...look at that ass! We're just admiring, and who doesn't (even if secretly) long to be admired? In my opinion, pin-ups are simply another way to show one's appreciation for the female form and women in general. Some guys even opt to have custom pin-ups based on their real-life female counterparts inked as an ode to their old lady. Way more romantic than a name tat, that's for sure!
Now, I can say that I've definitely thought about getting a pin-up tattoo in the past, especially after discovering some stunning modern pin-up images a few years back. To me, the idea of getting a pin-up tattoo has always seemed so natural. I am indeed bisexual, and would love to have a seductive lil' ink kitten gracing my skin. But when I really truly consider actually getting such a tat...I can't help but wonder how it'll come off, especially to the elder generations.
My mom would absolutely hate me for getting a pin-up. I think she'd see it as pornographic, even if the girl wasn't naked, simply because as a female I *shouldn't* find women sexually attractive. Now, she has no idea that I'm bi. I don't feel it's necessary to explain this part of my life to her, mainly because I don't think I'll ever settle down with a girl. Also, it would absolutely freak her out. She's pretty liberal-minded, but totally and completely against gay marriage and homosexuality in general. I don't think she'd be able to even comprehend why I would get a pin-up tat. It would totally blow her mind to bits. And it's not just her - while older lady folk seem to love my calla lily tattoo, I doubt they would even acknowledge a pin-up tat, opting instead to discuss its utter vulgarity behind my back. Getting a pin-up tat is just not a ladylike thing to do!
Ok, one last point. As I sat in my jacuzzi (jealous?) last night contemplating sporting a pin-up tat, I realized that, no matter the particular image, having such a tat would accord perfectly with my personal views on the modern woman. I wear sneakers with skirts. I swear like a drunken sailor. I love dirtbikes and anime. And yes, obvi, I have tats and piercings. I'm not the typical girl, and I think that my adherence to the things in life that I love despite what others may think would be topped off nicely by a pin-up tat. Early pin-ups helped bust down barriers that kept women from loving their bodies, and many girls from my generation are decking themselves out in...well...whatever they want! These days, the ideal woman is a woman who loves and is true to herself.
So, although some pin-up tats are just plain raunchy, in general I think they're a-ok. After all, sometime's all you need is a little T&A to get you through your day!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

self-contained pharmacy

As a result of this so-called recession and my efforts to save up for my long-awaited move to San Francisco later this spring, I’ve recently decided to ditch the acrylic claws I’ve been sporting since summer. Upkeep just got too pricey, and despite how much I’m going to miss the orgasmic sensation they lent to hair-washing, they simply had to go. But before they did I had an experience with ‘em that unexpectedly led to some new insights on the body and its miraculous ability to heal itself.
I was enjoying a relaxing night at a friend’s house, just hanging around blabbing and drinking my famous mojitos. After finishing off the last of the Bacardi I went to toss the empty bottle into the pull-out garbage contraption under her sink, but didn’t realize that the drawer was spring-loaded. It snapped back into place before I could remove my hand, catching one of my nails and leaving it with a horizontal hairline crack. I of course uttered the requisite profanities, but thought nothing of the seemingly minor injury…until two days later. Upon attempting to fall asleep that night I couldn’t shake the sense that something was wrong with my now throbbing and slightly hot fingernail. I decided that I needed to remove the acrylic nail, which I had repaired with nail glue, and relieve the pressure. Upon doing so (which by the way was an uncomfortable 20-minute ordeal) I found that not only the acrylic nail but my own nail was cracked. This left room for an infection to creep in, hence the yellowish puss that emerged when I finally managed to get all of the acrylic off. Okay…this is turning into a longer story than I had meant it to be…so I’ll just say that I was basically left with only half a nail and half a swollen, tender, sore patch of exposed flesh. It looked terrible that night, bright red and seeping, but as the days went on the wound healed incredibly fast. A callous formed in less than a day and the nail grew back within a week. I marveled at the way my body had healed itself, kicking the infection, protecting the raw skin, and re-growing the nail all in a matter of days.
Sci-fi books and movies offer tales of limbs that can re-grow within seconds of being severed, and wounds that heal almost instantaneously after being obtained. Real-life healing is not quite so miraculous, but our bodies are capable of reversing injuries and illnesses that can in some cases seem irreversible. This type of healing occurs automatically, that is, without any conscious effort on the part of the victim. But is it also possible to utilize one’s mind to facilitate healing? In my experience, and according to the accounts of both patients and medical professionals the world over, it sure is.
Take visualization, for example. It is said that by visualizing one’s cancerous cells becoming healthy again, or visualizing a rash disappearing, one can actually aid in the acceleration of such healing. Mental techniques such as the shifting of one’s focus away from pain can also be a valuable addition to other methods of pain management. Or what about the placebo effect? Time and time again, participants in medical trials who are administered sugar pills have been known to reap the benefits of the medication they believe they’re being given. In these cases, the intangible, our thoughts, have a measurable healing effect on the tangible, our bodies. This relationship got me thinking – when it comes to body modification, does the reverse correlation apply? Can our bodies heal our minds?
Damn right they can.

Just a few examples I can think of:
-Some tattoos remind us of what’s important in life, like straight-edge tattoos. The wearer sees his or her XXX tattoo every day, reinforcing the mindset that led to becoming edge in the first place.
-Memorial tattoos, which many people claim have been tremendously helpful with the grieving process.
-Tattoos in general often boost confidence and improve body image.
-Suspension is said to reduce anxiety and increase confidence in many hangers. Such an undertaking puts an unfathomable strain on the mind, perhaps even more so than on the body. The individual is forced to pit mind against body, ignoring or distracting themselves from the overwhelming urge to escape the intense pain and pressure that comes along with suspending. Relief is a choice, and in deciding to remain hanging, even if only for a short period of time, the individual may come to realize or discover his or her mental potential. Many have reported experiencing a heightened sense of control over their emotions and lives in general after a suspension experience.

The body and mind are in an inextricable relationship with one another. They are in constant interaction, and under the right circumstances they can even heal one another. But they can also seriously disturb one another, as studies on how stress affects physical health have quite clearly shown. Here, the mind takes a toll on the body. The body can also have a negative impact on the mind, though, as when individuals with (what they consider to be) a less than ideal physical appearance become depressed or debilitatingly self-conscious.
These examples go to show that we should perhaps be more aware of our thoughts and the images we choose to harbor in our minds. We should, by the same token, also think carefully about what we choose to do with our bodies. Tattoos that remind us of negative aspects of life, such as one I recently saw inscribed on an old friend that reads “Love Kills Slowly,” just don’t make sense to me. Now, perhaps all the theories out there about visualization and positive thinking are a big load of horse shit, but on the off chance that they’re not, I plan to steer clear of mods with any kind of a negative association. Even if the sentiment represented by my friend’s tattoo has been a prevalent theme in his life thus far, is it one that he wants to remember forever? Is it one that he wants reinforced every time he looks at his arm? Perhaps it’s more badass than a tat that reads “Love Is All You Need,” but more functional? I seriously doubt it.
So, my little modsters, love your bodies. Funny how for us that means sticking them with needles and hanging them from 6g hooks! Nonetheless, take care of ‘em, and they’ll be sure to repay you with a mindset as brilliant as the reflection of the sun’s rays off your labret.

p.s. - Peep this story from Discovery news. A recently developed tattoo ink can alert Diabetes sufferers to abnormal blood glucose levels! Maybe now we'll get some respekt!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

sak it to me, i'm wearing protection

This past weekend the first ever tattoo convention in Asia was held in Singapore, drawing tattoo artists and enthusiasts from around the world to share their love of the ancient practice. Although tattooing has been popular in Asia far longer than in the West, its prevalence amongst Asian youth has until recently been quite low. This lack of interest is primarily due to the fact that many traditional Asian tattoo styles are linked to specific religious traditions or belief systems, thus making them more than just a decorative adornment. They have esoteric significance, and unless an individual is seriously devoted to the meaning behind the image it's not likely that they would even consider obtaining a tattoo. There is also the issue of social acceptance to worry about, as being a tatted visitor to a small village could result in rude or even violent reactions from locals unfamiliar with the benevolent roots of the adornments. However, with the exponential increase in the popularity of tattooing amongst mainstream Westerners in the past ten to twenty years, some Asian youth have caught the bug and are taking the plunge into the world of ink.
For some, like one kid interviewed by the Associated Press at the Singapore convention, Western style tats are the way to go. He notes that his family doesn't approve of tattoos, but says he wanted to get his "Live Free, Die Hard" tattoo in an effort to express his individuality. Others, however, are looking to their cultural roots for fulfillment of their modding desires. Despite the fact that individuals from Southeast Asia collectively subscribe to wide variety of long-held religious and spiritual beliefs, it seems that when it comes to tattooing, they all find common ground in Sak Yant, a Thai tattooing tradition.
Upon learning about Sak Yant tattoos I was intrigued to find out that the style's combination of an image (yantra, in Sanskrit) and a Pali verse (mantra, in Sanskrit) represents a blend of Hindu and Buddhist symbols and teachings. Although it seems that the majority of those who wish to acquire Sak Yant tattoos are Buddhists, Hindu Brahmins also consider the practice a valuable addition to their many other religious rituals and traditions. Even more fascinating, for me at least, is the primary purpose of attaining a Sak Yant tattoo: protection. These inked creations are purported to shield the wearer from physical harm, and not just sickness or accidents. It is said that individuals with a Sak Yant have been known to miraculously escape knife and gun attacks that would otherwise have fatally injured them. Some have even been hit with bullets only to have them bounce off their flesh, leaving nothing but a small welt. As someone who has experienced the feeling of being protected by my mods, I was suddenly drawn deeply into this tradition to discover a new spin on the idea of mods as a method of defense.
Essentially, Sak Yant tattoos cloak their bearer in a suit of prayers. Although some secular artists claim to provide Sak Yants despite their lack of religious qualification, it is said that only monks and masters can apply and activate truly functional Sak Yants. As with any religious ceremony, there are special preparations and guidelines that must be followed if the adornment is to be optimally effective for its prescribed purpose. Specific elements of the ritual vary depending on its location, context (public vs. private), and the religious background of the practitioner, but it almost always involves recitation of the mantra being inscribed by the artist during the procedure. The tattooee must also mentally repeat the mantra over and over, which is said to help enhance the effectiveness of the charm and to distract the individual from the intense pain caused by the procedure. And distraction is definitely a necessity, considering that most Sak Yants are created by hand with a long steel skewer that is rapidly and repeatedly jabbed into the flesh, depositing a bluish-black ink that is said to actually darken over time. There are infinite combinations of yantra and mantra that can be applied, each wielding a unique and quite specific power that is only truly understood by the monk or master applying the tattoo. The magical qualities of these designs are purportedly so powerful that some individuals choose to undergo the procedure with oil rather than ink, leaving their skin perforated but not permanently marked and their soul just as fortified as if they had gotten inked. On the opposite extreme are individuals who choose to spike the ink to be used in their Sak Yant with the bile, saliva, or blood of particularly powerful or courageous animals. Now that's hardcore. The only thing perhaps more hardcore than imbuing your skin with bear bile is allowing yourself to be tattooed with instruments that have not been sterilized and trusting that the power of the tattoo's charms will protect you from contracting any blood borne diseases. Wait...is that hardcore, or just plain idiotic? Well, apparently it works, because there have been no reported cases of infection after obtaining a Sak Yant, hygienic (which they often are) or not. Now, if these features don't impress you, there's one more aspect of Sak Yant application that's pretty friggin intense, and puts to shame my recent 4-hour calf tat session. Although some Sak Yant are completed in mere minutes, others are applied over a period of 24 hours, only breaking to allow time for the skin and muscles to relax after being mercilessly pulverized like the chicken fried steak at your local chain steakhouse. Phew, screw marathons, that takes serious endurance!

So, who are these maniacs gettin all Yanted up? Well, there are a few different camps of Sak Yantees: the devotees and disciples who have studied with the monk or master who applies their tat, and observe a number of abstentions prior to and following application; the gangsters and mercenaries who sometimes, but not always, abide by prescribed pre- and post-procedure abstentions and are primarily in it for the magic powers of protection and courage said to be obtained via the tats; and the lay people like Angelina Jolie and a slew of Muay Thai fighters who have heard legends about these mystical adornments and wish to personally test the verity of their power or simply obtain a genuine Thai tattoo. So, are the latter two groups still able to reap the benefits of their Sak Yants, despite their inability to fully understand the traditions behind the practice? There is much disagreement on this point, with some claiming that those who do not abide by the guidelines dictated by their practitioner will go insane as a consequence of taking lightly the ancient and esoteric practice. Others see Sak Yants as an amulet of sorts that can be worn by anyone who puts their faith in its power. In any case, most agree that a Sak Yant's effectiveness is positively guaranteed to sputter out if it is used for any evil deeds. This got me thinking: many gang tattoos are acquired as a result of having participated in criminal activities, thus serving as a message to society that the person is not to be messed with, while Sak Yant tattoos signify an individual who should not be messed with either, but because of their piety rather than criminality. These individuals are publicly recognized as being protected by spiritual forces, and thus don't need a history of violence to prevent themselves from being hassled.
Now, although Sak Yant tattoos are said to darken in appearance over time, their power is said to fade quite rapidly. Thus, many devotees return to their master for a new tattoo every year in order to renew the charms found therein. Others may return for additional rounds of inking in anticipation of a particularly perilous journey or undertaking to strengthen their already active spiritual defense system. Let's see, pocket knife, check, water jug, check, Sak Yant, checkkkkk.
So, if you happened to clickity-click on the above link to my original blog post, you'll know that my interpretation of mods as protection is quite different from that of Sak Yant bearers. I feel protected by my mods because they lend my appearance a roughness and thus earn me...as embarrassing as it is to say this...street cred of a sort. Obviously my mods can't protect me from every potential encounter with danger, but it's my belief that they definitely help. And maybe the real power of tats as protection lies in the belief -you know, in a placebo kinda way?
In any case, despite the difference in Western tats from Thai tats, I think Westerners can learn a thing or two from the Sak Yant tradition that may make our modding experiences, if not more powerful, perhaps more fulfilling. For example, the custom of reciting the mantra associated with one's Sak Yant can be applied to Western tattooing in that we might try focusing on the intent or subject of the tattoo being applied during its application. This may prolong the recipient's appreciation of the image itself because the meaning behind it has been reinforced, and also perhaps help with attainment of any goals associated with the tat such as devotion to an idea or cause or attaining closure after the death of a loved one. We tend to see tats as passive adornments, just chillin on our flesh waiting to be observed and admired, but perhaps we are failing to take advantage of the active ability of tattoos to enhance our daily lives. We are at such a loss for tradition and community-based activity here in the West that everything has become a floating signifier. This can be depressing to think about, but at the same time it's inspiring in a way. Tats and mods in general can be whatever we want them to be. We're unlimited in our options for designs as well as the significance we attach to them. So what's it gonna be? Protection? Confidence? Inspiration? It seems that modding in the West is a choose your own adventure of sorts. Makes the Sak Yant seem like a bit of a one trick pony - but hey, I'm sure no one in Thailand is complaining. Being able to deflect bullets is a really good party trick.