I’ve considered the idea of getting a tattoo for a long time now, but there are two things holding me back from actually booking an appointment at a tattoo parlor. One is that I’m kind of scared of needles, and the other is that I worry that a tattoo I might like now isn’t one I will still like when I’m much older. You might have loved the punk band The Misfits in your early twenties – but how does that tattoo look on your arm when you’re in your fifties and your musical tastes have changed? What tattoo could I get that I wouldn’t regret years later?
The book Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide has made me ponder the idea of getting a literary tattoo. This book is an anthology of literary tattoos and the stories behind the choices of quotations and/or images. Katharine Barthelme discusses her Born Dancin’ tattoo which she had done as a tribute to her father (Donald Barthelme) and his short story of the same name, which is reprinted in the book. Another tattoo is of the phrase “Leap before you look” paired with a portrait of the author of it, W. H. Auden. An interesting project called Skin is also described. Imagine a short story published solely as thousands of individual words tattooed on volunteers, with the title word ‘skin’ tattooed on the author, Shelley Jackson. Pretty neat idea!
Reading this book certainly made me consider which literary quotations I would consider getting as tattoos. Throughout my life there have been certain quotations that I have carried with me. A favorite book of mine when I was a teenager was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which I read numerous times. When I was going through teen angst (such as a breakup with a boyfriend) I would read it, wallow in self-pity for a while, have a good cry and move on. In fact, when I think about my favourite line from that book “It is such a secret place, the land of tears” it evokes the feelings I had reading that book and I remember how I could get through any crisis I was facing. In the book, the Little Prince cries because he’s upset thinking about the possibility of his flower being eaten by a sheep – and that line paired with a picture of the flower would make a pretty cool tattoo.
Another line from literature that I love is E.M. Forster‘s “only connect” which is the epigraph to Howard’s End. This book is set in the early 1900s and deals with class differences, and many critics have written about this phrase and what it means. I remember endless discussions about it when I took a class in Modern British Literature. To me, it’s a reminder of how everything and everyone is interconnected, and also reminds me that we need to open ourselves to new ideas, people, and experiences to connect with the world in meaningful ways. This quotation just makes me feel quite philosophical, and I think would be worthy of becoming a tattoo.
One last quotation that I find empowering, and that perhaps every teenage girl should take to heart (or get a tattoo of!) is Francesca Lia Block‘s “in every girl is a goddess” from her book of short stories, Girl Goddess #9. These stories all deal with female characters who discover their uniqueness and strength. This line has stuck with me for many years, and I have toyed with the idea of getting it as a tattoo. Now if I could only get rid of my fear of needles, I’d be all set to make that appointment!
What are your favorite lines or images from literature? Would you want them permanently inscribed on you?