First up: showing off my new tattoo, mostly because I'm really excited about it and also because it's relevant -- it's literary, I promise. Everything from how the tattoo was paid for to the meaning of the tattoo itself relates to writing.
So here's the story. The fantastic people of a fantastic literary magazine called Fourteen Hills throw a fantastic party. In December of 2009 I attended their release party. I was blown away by the readings, and of all the coveted raffle prizes, I came away with the one I wanted most, a gift certificate to Green Apple Books. So when the same party came around in December 2010, I couldn't wait. And I had my eye on this year's number one raffle prize -- a gift certificate for a tattoo from Body Bazzare in Sacramento.
The party itself was a prize, with thrilling readings from Jason Bayani, Myron Michael, Stephen Elliott, and more. Litseen covered the event, complete with videos of those great readings, in this article.
Then came the raffle. The tattoo was mine, and I let it be known, figuring putting the energy in the air that this tattoo and I were meant to be couldn't hurt. They called my name...and I won dinner. I don't remember where to, and I probably didn't even look, because I was too busy trying to figure out if a tattoo artist might be willing to trade dinner for work. When they called a name for the tattoo, the woman who went up to claim her prize did not look much like a tattoo aficionado -- and my good friend and Fourteen Hills intern Matthew James DeCoster asked her if she was one. A good friend indeed. When she answered "no," he and I asked if she'd like to trade with me, and so the tattoo was mine. I did a little dance, witnessed by many, and got started planning my tattoo.
It's technically two tattoos. I've been thinking of the words for a while, from Langston Hughes' essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." At first I planned a longer quote, but in the end I shortened it to just the last three words from the end of the essay:
"We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."
© Langston Hughes (emphasis mine)
These words mean a lot to me and my sense of pride in myself, and they've been especially meaningful recently in my life. So my tattoo includes those words, as well as birds to symbolize freedom, hope, community. But this barely scratches the surface of what this all means to me, so maybe I'll revisit that at another time. I also have another literary tattoo, words from an Audre Lorde poem, to show off at some point. But without further ado, here's my newest tattoo! Thanks, Fourteen Hills!