Huntress of the Lens


Monday, September 21, 2009

3:30am thoughts on Control and the Sacred Art of Tattoo

Today I won't be tattooing. I've been working every single day thanks to my good friend Holly, who told me she had hired herself to start doing the things I just don't get around to, or don't feel well enough to keep up on. My books are starting to be filled, straight blocks of green all across the calendar week (I chose the color of money for the tattoo entries) because she will only book me so much, and is willing to make people wait, where I have been taking them as they come. It's not wearing me out as bad to have just a certain number of things to do in a day, and I love the look of that full calendar.

Thanks to her, we now take deposits regularly, and have release forms going, and are keeping excellent records at the shop. All of these are ideas that Michael has proposed at one time or another, but I've always resisted help and don't tell me how to run my business. Surrender has started to infiltrate more than my recovery, and I've finally started to learn to let other people help me. I've always seen offers of assistance as implications that I'm not competent and can't do it myself, and my theme song has been "You're not the boss of me!" so I'm always in charge and we do everything my way. The only catch to this excellent plan is that lots of real-world stuff has been falling apart while I play the role of blissful artist. Holly hired herself for ten percent of the payments for the work I do, and she does the same for Shayla. She didn't like the title "shop girl" so she promoted herself to "shop manager" and now she works with me every day. I surrendered and I'm amazed at the result. 

My shop looks flawless, with everything in order, my books are not chaotic, she actually listens to the answering machine and returns calls, and every customer is being greeted personally instead of getting an over-the-shoulder "hello, what can I do for you?" while I tattoo. We're taking deposits, and people aren't standing me up any more. Things are running smoothly, and it's because I've allowed myself to accept the assistance of people who have ideas other than my own. 

When I married Michael he had all sorts of ideas about how my business could run better and be more profitable, but I have always been a control freak about how things run at Flying Colors, it's MINE and no one should be telling me how to run a business that's coming up on it's 17th anniversary. I've run it this long, raised three kids doing it, and don't try to tell me what to do. An excellent statement of independence, except I'm an artist and have no business trying to run a business. The truth is everything that Holly has come in and taken charge of are ideas that Michael has already proposed and I was completely threatened by. "Are you saying I don't know how to run my own business?" The truth is, I'm really not that good at the business end of it.

Learning to let people who have a real talent for certain things do them and leave me to what I'm good at has been very hard for me. I owe Michael a giant apology, and Holly a giant "Thank you." It took my illness to make this happen; yet another thing that actually makes it a kind of blessing, although I wasn't open to the idea that anything good could come from being ill when Dr. Gail first proposed the idea that eventually I may find some good in this terrible thing that has been happening to me. Who would have thought that anyone but me was right about anything? Certainly not myself.

All I have to say is "Holly, I've been meaning to..." and she just does it. Like yesterday. I've had four pieces of artwork that are copies of tattoo flash from 1908 and four frames I bought six months ago in a bag leaning against a wall. I've always wanted to frame them since I got them about ten years ago, but just never got around to it. At least one of the pieces is dated 1908, I think two of them are from the WWII era. I've had them for around ten years, and they've been safely flat in a drawer for most of that time. Within twenty minutes they were framed and looking fantastic. All I had to do was ask. 

Then I asked Michael to come down and hang them for me. That required moving a shelf and using the drill to do it. Too much trouble for me to ever actually do that, without him they would have leaned against the same wall, beautifully framed for another six months. He spent an enormous amount of time hanging them, or should I say preparing them to hang. They had no little fixture on the back for installation, he had to make do with what he found in the shop. Wire ties and an old mouse cord were the supplies, I was tattooing, I didn't see the actual mechanics of that. He used a level and a measuring stick, and they are really well hung. I said it that way so you'd have something to make silly comments about.

Holly and Michael worked on that project together, and it made me think of programs I've watched on TV about psychologists who say they can predict which couples will stay married by giving them simple tasks or assignments to do together. That's actually the thought that has generated all the preceding paragraphs, but why write a few when you can use ten thousand words? They observe couples doing simple tasks like building towers out of paper towel tubes and other silly fun projects. The way the couple work together, who's in charge, whether or not one becomes contemptuous of the other's ideas and methods, all of these things are predictors of the general success of the couple.

Michael and I can make fun out of anything we do. We can laugh and kid each other when our projects get tough, or something falls over and makes a mess. Holly and I can do stuff, but we do have our moments where we are both bitchy and have to point out how the other person is not doing it right. I was thinking of those success-indicator shows I've watched and came to the conclusion that there is no way Michael and Holly could ever be married; leaving out the most obvious reasons, just talking about the way they work together. They frustrate each other to an epic degree.  Holly and I could never be married, because the stress level rises, slower but certainly in the same way. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Holly, I'm saying that Michael and I are perfect for each other. We can laugh as we go along no matter what we're doing. Why in the world did I resist his help all this time? Because I've been a total control freak, that's why.

It took me being ill and totally depleted to allow Holly to walk in and say "I'm working for you now, and here's what you're paying me." It took me being flat on my back to let Michael say "This is what needs to be done, and how I plan to do it, is that alright with you?" I actually have a bright and functioning light on the ceiling over my station now instead of the really cool looking one I ordered from ebay five years ago, because I let Michael choose and install it. Granted, it's not as artistically cool looking as the one I chose, but it works very well and uses regular light bulbs which will be very simple to replace if they burn out, which they won't because he chose the right lighting fixture for the placement. I'm learning giant lessons about not being in control of every aspect of my life, and it's not as bad as I would have imagined.

I've spent years doing everything myself, feeling like I can't count on anyone to do things "right" and if it needs doing then I have to be the one doing it. I planned and executed a wedding with 160 guests, and didn't accept help from anyone at all. It was beautiful, I thought it was perfect. It killed me on my actual wedding day to realize that all the things I had been gathering and making would have to go into someone else's hands to set up, because I had to be the bride and stay in the bride-room in secrecy and preparation. I think I used a half-pack of index cards with instructions and arrows to make sure that it was set up exactly the way I imagined it. That killed me, I felt so much that I needed to do it myself. Everything was put together by me, but I had to let go of the set-up phase and trust others to manifest my vision. I could have learned the lesson all that time ago, but it slipped right by me in the glory of the day. How has Michael been so patient while I learned that I'm not the Queen of the world and that other people are competent to do for me what I always think I should be doing all by myself?

I suppose this blog is really just a time filler, it's now 4:30 and what else to do but write? It's a small statement that I can let other people help me and that I'm not in control of my whole world; for me though that's a huge revelation. I've even been letting Michael drive when we go places. That statement alone would amaze those who know me well. I'm amusing myself with my writing these things down, you're not obligated to read my 1800 words.

Thinking back to the original topic I used for my jumping off point, the idea that my art-form has been practiced in the western world with electric machines for around a hundred years now really seems thought-provoking to me. It's ancient, and yet we here in America have adopted it as a part of our culture for somewhere around a whole century now. It's brand new for me every day, but it is one of the older practices that we humans have been engaged in for as long as people have had skin.

Sometimes I connect for a moment with my ancient colleagues when I'm doing certain pieces. There is a very spiritual and ritualistic element to this very intimate art-form. It is a right of passage, it claims huge landmarks in the lives of some people, it is a sacred element of growth and grief a great deal of the time. There are sittings where I sometimes connect with the Shamanic aspect of the permanent mark, and I can feel the spirits of my elders over my shoulder as I perform the magic rights of tattoo. I did a piece that has very old roots that is a symbol of protection for someone this last week, and I found myself mentally working that thought into the lines as I laid them down into my client's skin. How often do I pray or meditate on the energy I'm infusing into my lines to create something that's more than just a pretty picture? The answer is very often. Many of the images I do are for healing, whether the client knows it or not, and I weave that energy into the act of depositing pigment under skin. These kinds of thoughts are maybe why I really should be leaving the bookkeeping to someone else, I have no business running a business, I am engaged in sacred arts, that's my place in the world.

I also feel I do energy work just by laying my hands on people, and definitely do a lot of counseling in my conversations. The whole thing is so much more than just drawing slightly painful pictures on people. Even in the design-creation phase when I'm consulting I get in touch with who a person is and what they're trying to say, and then weave the magic language of image into the artwork. All of tattooing feels like summoning magic for me, unless it's just another Raider logo or some tribal forms because they "look cool." Even then I feel I'm connecting in a very personal way with every client. They let me under their skin, leave something inside of their exterior boundary that will always be there as long as they inhabit their body. I know from experience that when you cover a tattoo it's still there, under the new design. Once I've done what I do, we'll be together until death do we part. Or until you meet up with a Q-switch laser.

I've not only come to accept that I'm giving up control of some mundane business aspects of the entity and empire that is Flying Colors, I'm getting excited about it. I have Holly, who is perfect for the position she has created for herself. I have Shayla who has joined me in the art, and Jim when he is moved to do it with us. Mostly I have Michael, who is devoted to me in a way that no other human (excepting my Big Daddy, but that is in such a different way) has ever been, and he's willing to give all of himself to help create the space I occupy as I practice my lifelong wish. How in the world have I resisted this for so long? Or isn't that the way most of us feel when a new thought or lesson really sinks in to the level of true acceptance and understanding? I felt this way about living in recovery when I finally got that too.

Thanks for sharing these early morning hours with me, I know I've taken you all over the landscape of my thoughts; without a plan, without a statement and a conclusion; just rambling about and pondering.

When the sun comes up and I've fulfilled my one commitment with my daughter I will have the chance to spend a whole day with Michael, just being together and talking and moving through the world. I'll have no responsibilities to tend to, noother people to be in my specialized kind of service for; just being with my most loved one and seeing what the day has to offer. If I had to choose a day in a week that I knew was my very last I would have one just like this one. I am blessed to have this life that I live, illness or not. My life has rich opportunities to be in service, and fine people to love and support me while I live out my dream. Does it get any better than this? Maybe, but I would be content if it were just like this for the rest of my days.

Except the headache, I am ready to be done with that.

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