So I set three alarms for an early wake up, but sleep won’t come me because I keep stirring. My mind doesn't want to mess this up, somehow the importance invades my dreams. This morning was the same, but my spirits are high so I’m traveling on powerful fumes.
Already, this trip is proving to be inspirational. And isn’t that how it goes? When we overextend for something bigger than ourselves, the runoff proves to be nourishing.
I’m off to Houston! TSA Pre made things easy and I slept the entire flight.
Waking up to a rough landing, I found myself startled. My body knew it was off. It’s become a muscle memory of sorts. You have to keep kinetic energy in the airplane at the lowest level you can. The touchdown dumps that energy. If the initial touchdown is too soft, the airplane is still kind of flying. The energy will have to be dispersed over braking instead. I’m only saying all of that because it made think of how many variables we encounter with other people. I’ve been told the best training for landing small aircraft takes into account multiple techniques and emphasizes pilots making decisions “by the seat of their pants”.
One can prepare with information, but experience and intuition seems to be everything. Self training is important in order to build a baseline of understanding.
I’m trying to communicate that my best “landings” have never been calculated. They’ve been multiple decisions made without a ton of foresight. Rather, cumulative intuition based on listening and learning over many years, with many people.
I feel the final product on the woman I’m about to see, was finely tuned to her needs, her varying conditions. And I’m proud of that.
Courtney is a mom and an accountant. Drew is a dad and a firefighter. And Kai, well, he wants to be a policeman, doctor, and a firefighter because he wants to help people. You should see him, these two are gonna be scrambling to keep up. I’m already curious what he’s gonna do with such a quick mind... how many people he’ll affect, like his parents.
I’ve spent time with them a couple of times. When Courtney got a mastectomy tattoo, Drew had to have the same flower on him as well. They’re a unit. In probably the healthiest way I’ve seen. And it’s not that everything seems perfect, it’s more about how open and honest they communicate with each other.
Also! There hasn’t been an ounce of judgment. I’m sure you realize how rare this is. When spending an inordinate amount of time with people, clients tend to get comfortable and blatantly honest. We all have bias and it comes out. It’s common and my role is to be neutral and listen. Well, in the twenty or so hours I’ve spent with Courtney and Drew, it’s all been acceptance. Fun and love and pure acceptance.
I’m not sure I’m explaining this well. These two aren’t hippies or anything. They’re both super normal and funny as hell. It’s just that somehow they have a large-scale perspective on life that imbues everything they do.
Anyway, I was greeted by three dogs and some piddle. Then I walked inside and met a sweet heart cat with the most beautiful face. All of which made sense to me. I’m sitting here listening to a story of Drew calling home because a chinchilla needed saving. Life really matters to them. Intrinsic value!
They’ve readily adjusted to whatever crosses their path. But I wanted to know more. These are not the kind of people that sing their own praises, these are folks that speak with actions.
We started talking about my last post, and Courtney started to open up. To hear her communicate about the resulting difference is encouraging. As we were talking about Heather’s response, it’s obvious Courtney understood, but it seemed to be from a different angle.
“I get it, but I’ve become the opposite of shy,” she says.
I was wondering what she was thinking.
“I have a hard time not showing these to everybody.”
Oh no way! That’s not at all what I was expecting to hear. How wonderful.
I well up with tears and realize I was a small part of that shift.
“I remember telling you how the dimpling bothered me, but now I don’t even see it. Actually, this is the first time I’ve seen it in awhile, because I’m talking about it.”
And I remember her telling me that. If there’s any sort of indentation, it’s important to keep darkness away from it. You’d think throwing something on top of it would do the trick, but that’s not the case. The slight dip will visibly deepen if it’s given the weight of any more darkness. So if skin tone is the lightest we can go, darkening the surrounding area can optically trick the eye. The indentation is no longer obvious, and she’s happy.
It still shocks me that we really did it. We spent enough time and, on the fly, we figured out something that would work. Something that has given her enough confidence to not only enjoy, but to also show strangers. How magnificent.
I could hang out with these two forever, but I have to rush. It looks like flights are filling up quickly and I’m worry I won’t be able to fit on my flight to Minneapolis.
Yesterday, I spent most of the day traveling. I made it to Houston and had a wonderful time with Courtney and Drew. I’m excited to post about it later tonight.
Turns out flights filled fast heading out of Houston and I wasn’t able to catch one. Between you and me, I’ve been flying standby and all was according to plan.
But chaos got the best of it and that’s okay. I finally made my way home and was able to capture 3 of the 4 photos I wanted to.
Ill shower and catch up to myself. Then I’ll post more.
Once I took flight, the stress of planning shit disappeared. I landed a few hours later into a warm and rainy South. When you walk through an airport listening to Kendrick, you feel on fire. If you choose Frank Ocean, everything feels nostalgic. I chose Channel Orange and headed to baggage claim. My first client of this trip was waiting for me!
Heather is a mom to four: triplets and then one for good measure. She works on the 31st floor of a building in downtown Birmingham. I quickly remembered her Southern charm tempers an intimidating mind.
When you sit with people for hours, you don’t just absorb their stories, you pick up on nuance. Little, personalized ways of communicating. Sure, it gives me tools to helps with pain management, but it’s more than that. When coupled with a backstory, you start to get a feel for the person.
I’ve read that a gestalt therapist (with somatic education) has the ability to observe a person walking and pick up on signs of pain, medical issues, depression, anxiety, and so on. They’ve connected experiential psychotherapy with adult movement patterns. It’s an extra tool used to pull more information. The more accurate the context, the more fitting we can empathize.
As a tattooer, we tend to get more time with people than most other professions. If we let ourselves, we can pick up on so much. And even be part of a healing process.
It’s seeing someone deeply and asking questions instead of acting like you understand. “What did I miss?”
And then, we tend to open up even more. We sense safety if it’s present, and we lean in.
When I first met her she was nervous about running her first 10k. Now she’s running ultra marathons. Of course she is.
We catch up and I got to meet her partner. His eyes squint when he smiles and I’m certain they match hers somehow. He’s just as sweet as he is weathered. They run together and that’s adorable.
After setting up, we went to take pictures of her healed tattoos and I noticed something.
She was reticent to take her shirt off.
It melted me. Because I remember otherwise. I remember how clinical the process was and usually is.
When using the word “abandon” within the context of property, it means to give up with the intent of never again claiming a right or interest in.
Most women tend to reveal their scarring with that sort of abandon.
We finished the photo session and I felt safe to comment on what I had noticed. She smiled and responded, “these weren’t mine before... but now they are.”
I tend to cry, so whatever, I cried. :)
They told me more about their lives together and I didn’t want to respond with anything related to myself, I was lucky to soak it up. Being privy to any life is the most beautiful gift.
It was all so quick. We got some great photos and being able to see behind the scenes is proving to add so much more to these stories.
Now I need ramen and a little bit of sleep before I get up at 3am for a redeye to Houston!
If empathy grows with acceptance, it seems transparency gives even more to embrace.
Just lovely. And classy.
It started with an email...
We are moving forward fast with the exhibit and we would love to show 4 great examples of your tattoos helping women after breast cancer.
Could you send us a selection of 6-8 great horizontal image in very high res? We will show 4 large images.
If you have any questions, please ask B, our excellent designer/producer on the show.
A well-respected graphic designer
I’ve been waiting for this. After a handful of conversations, it seems this is gonna happen. My work, my life’s work, will be featured in a traveling exhibit amongst other pieces of beauty. Every little bit of press, or exposure, is a calculated decision to showcase the availability of what I do. I just want this craft and this artform to be seen as an option. One of many options, sure, but yet another viable option.
JAMA called my mastectomy tattoos the “intersection of art and medicine”. I didn’t fully understand the weight or depth of such a label. But! More than any outside response, it gave me a little more confidence. Any solid, outside source of validation is incredible.
So I’ve been saying “yes” to otherwise anxiety riddled projects. Because if there is actually healing in taking care of another individual (there is), then I’m going to choose to champion the act of doing so.
Okay so, the well-respected designer is asking for high resolution photos to be displayed on a large scale. How magnificent! But. I don’t have high resolution images. I’ve been using my iPhone for documenting these projects for years. Awhile back Annie Leibovitz suggested the iPhone as “the snapshot camera of today” touting its accessibility. It was enough for me to justify not spending money on another camera... I’m easy like that.
But the images.
I responded to the email asking for more time, of course. Time to brainstorm and figure out a solution.
One week would be great, All the Best, B
And now I’m off to the fucking races. I happen to have a lovely camera now, and I’ve spent enough time with it to be dangerous. So why not travel across the country this weekend and take photos of these tattoos?
It’ll be easy, right?
With help from a friend, we’ve scheduled all the flights and I’m sitting at Midway Airport drinking Merlot from a plastic cup.
Tonight I’m off to Birmingham. I’ll connect to Heather and her family and they’ve offered to pick me up from the airport.
Heading to the airport early to beat traffic has started things off with less stress :)
I promise to post all of the dogs I meet on this trip. 🙋🏻♂️
Merlot to go.
Took me awhile to push myself into doing anything of value, but I messed with a painting of my little man sleeping first. It's a bit boring working on the 2d values, but once they're all there, I'll slowly remove the obvious strokes. I have to continue to think in terms of layers. What's next? Usually I'm about 3 steps ahead. I'd like to be about 15. So there's that.
But I do follow my own take of each reference image. Each elicits a completely different feel and take. How do I make these cohesive if each image feels so individual? We'll see if that can happen.
Then I jumped into the woman and shower. The composition moves make me smile, so I found some sort of fervor towards the end of the night to attack confidently. And it shows. Strange how that works.