Jul 16, 2007

So last week I decided that I want to get another tattoo. Right now I have two tattoos. The first I got when I was 18. It's a rose on my shoulder that I picked out of a book of some metalhead tattoo artist who lived out in the boondocks in the middle of Pennsylvania and tattooed my friend Barb and me in his basement. When I told my mom I was getting a tattoo she asked what would happen when I was 30 or something and I had a job and I was too embarrassed to wear a bathing suit at a company picnic, and I remember thinking that I had to get a tattoo because if I ever grew up to be so lame and so concerned with other people then I deserved to be embarrassed and I could officially consider my tattoo to be an 18 year old's "fuck you" to her older, lamer self. So even though now I wish I'd picked something more gorgeous and unique than a red rose and I have thought for years that maybe I should improve on it, I sort of love this tattoo just the way it is.

The second tattoo I got on an island in Greece when I was 20, and even though my sister and I knew that the guy--a lobster-red English guy who carried his tattoo kit around with him in a plastic case--was probably an awful artist we just were so blissful and free that summer and I know I for one wanted to mark it in some way, and I wanted an angel of some sort because back then my obsession with wings and flying took that form, and he didn't have a good one so I just picked a fairy instead and he did a black outline on my upper outer thigh that even back then wasn't fully formed and by now is just awful, just an 80% done blue-black jailhouse-looking outline of a fairy, and I have absolutely intended to improve on that tattoo for over 15 years now but I never have and I don't usually even remember I have it but when I catch sight of it I remember Greece and the breeze and the water and the sound of donkeys and the sliced cucumber dipped in salt and the bottles of Retsina my sister and I would split and how I listened to Leonard Cohen over and over and read And the Ass Saw the Angel and The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love on a plastic chair in this little harbor on this island Chalki, which is an hour away from Turkey and maybe the best place I've ever been, and then of course I don't really want to change the tattoo at all.

But then, later, I decided that when I finally sold Rain Village I would get a circus-y tattoo, something colorful and wonderful, and then I decided that when the book came out I would, and then I just never did because in the overwhelmingness of all that and of going on book tour and of finishing the second book getting a tattoo was not my top priority and plus after having lived with bad ones for so long any one I would get now would obviously have to be exceedingly gorgeous and something very unique to me and who I am, unlike a red rose picked out of a book.

And so it wasn't until a few days ago that I thought okay, I need to pick what I will get, something very great, and not just great but something that is meaningful to who I am, and I thought I would just think about it a little over the weekend, maybe look through a book or two, but then on the bus home the other day I just started making a list of all the images I love/am obsessed with, and of course there are a lot, and certainly in my writing I repeat images over and over, birds and spices and leaves and water and fruit and wings and so on, but then I was thinking how for example there is nothing I love more than the image of a pumpkin or a black bird or a corn stalk or a cinnamon stick but as much as I love them why would I get a tattoo of any of those things on my body, that wouldn't make sense, and then I felt like I wasn't really thinking about tattoos but images and the unconscious and like the things that are at the heart of you and then I thought about the image of the girl on the trapeze in Wings of Desire since certainly that image is at the heart of both of my novels, one that is very deep in me, but then I felt like I was going further, like I was in this dreamy space, remembering being little, which is hard for me since we lived in a bunch of places so my childhood feels very disconnected from me, many places removed.

Then I remembered first reading the Greek myths, maybe in second or third grade. And I just kept seeing women turning into birds or trees or entering the underworld or disappearing when someone looks back at them, and something in me opened up and what I was remembering more than anything else was a sense of the world being totally open, like there was so much possibility and beauty in things, and there was something in that that felt as close as I was going to get, the image of a woman turning into a bird, and a woman turning into a tree, the first especially because of wings and circuses and the second because the image of Daphne turning into a laurel tree is so beautiful but also underpins Petrarch's Rime Sparse which aside from the Divine Comedy is the book I spent the most time studying and reading about and being obsessed with and haunted by.. over and over again Petrarch plays with his beloved Laura's name and the laurel tree and the laurels the poet wears.

And then I was thinking about Ovid and metamorphoses and I was like in this space of complete beauty and dreaminess and it felt so central to me and what I am and how I am, though I'm not really sure why or what that means, it feels more mysterious than that, like if I could unlock something in those images and what they evoke then I could understand something profound, but anyway I was thinking of Ovid and transformation and becoming new things and entering new worlds and also I had all these books out this weekend, my favorite books, like William Blake's illustrations of the Divine Comedy and Dante Rossetti's paintings and Nemo in Slumberland, which made me burst into tears when I first saw it because it felt like something I had lost was right in those pages, and then later in the weekend, on Sunday, I was writing in a coffeehouse in between hanging out with Eric and meeting Joi and Lana and I decided to take notes for my Dante novel rather than work on the noir and suddenly all these images I'd been thinking about just flooded through me, all these emotions and images and feelings, and I thought of Daphne and Apollo and the laurel leaves and then I thought about Beatrice (Dante's beloved), from whose perspective I am writing the novel, and how she, back in 1270, 1280, she would have read Ovid too, or known the stories from Ovid at least, and these images would be part of her imaginative world, they would be her whole inner world, the myths and the images and the poems and the possibility in them, and she would have thought and dreamt of God and angels and myths and just.. all this stuff came together, and I felt like I was at the heart of her. Her inner life that Dante tapped into, or will in my novel, and that nobody else does.

And really I'm just rambling but it was this sort of wonderful amazing moment of understanding something and inventing a character and since 99% of the time I think writing is a real drag I figured I should document a moment when it isn't at all, when in fact it really just feels transcendent and like a gift.