My skin is thin. Visible veins on my eyelids, the soft underside of my wrists, the palms of my hands and creases of my elbows. There are places you can see the blues and green map of my life.
My skin has the scars of my childhood, of chicken pox, of acne, of my forehead meeting the corner of our living room wall in a tussle with my sister.
My skin has freckles and moles. It has smile lines that crease deeper with each passing year. Small rivers that draw themselves overnight, carving from my lashes to my cheek bone, lingering in the morning light.
All of these uncontrollable elements etched onto the skin I was born into, the skin I’ve grown in, been hurt and healed in.
This is the skin I live in.
It’s the canvas of a life in progress.
I don’t accessorize well. I don’t have pierced ears, don’t even carry a purse. I’ve never figured out how to make a scarf look good and my coat isn’t a statement of style, it’s a flaming coral puffy shield against winter in New Hampshire (that I bought, solely because it was less expensive than the less glaring colors of the same jacket).
I lose rings, break bracelets, tangle necklace chains into impossible knots. I haven’t been to a salon or cut my hair (other than trimming it myself, over my bathroom sink) in over a decade. My make-up is all a drugstore mishmash that I don’t even really know how to apply.
But, the art that I have drawn on my skin, stays. It’s there, beautifully, effortlessly, telling a story on my skin. More than an indelible accessory, it’s an expression of me.
On my back there are moon phases for each of the days that my family was born.
On my left forearm, a collection of wild flowers, representing sanctuary and hidden worth.
And Pablo Neruda whispers from wrist to elbow, between the shadow and the soul.
On my wrist, an ellipses, for all of the words gone unwritten, unsaid.
This past weekend, we went together to add more to the stories on our skin. Inked artistic impressions of wild dog roses, reminding me of Romania. Of my favorite places and time spent with my favorite people. The fistfuls of wild flowers that my children brought to me, tucked into emptied plastic water bottles.
Vinnie chose a tree, symbolic of family and roots and growing where planted. It’s he and I and our children, in art, on his skin.
Harder than sitting through an hour of having a needle drag across my skin, this trip, we brought our close friends and fellow photographer, (RaeEllen Photography), to document the day. Never mind that I am always more comfortable as a storyteller than a character, or that I would always rather be behind the camera or pen, than a starring subject….even beyond that, the simple act of seeing myself, lately, has become like seeing a stranger, at times. I know that they are imperceptible changes to anyone else, but, knowing it’s there and seeing the ways that Graves has changed my eyes – the swelling, the ever-so-slightly bulging, the way I look tired, always, or how I ‘stare’ without meaning to – it’s a vulnerable moment in the story of my life.
And, it speaks to the trust I have for Rachel, that I would ask her to come and document us, just as we are, just as my eyes are, in these moments of ink into art, the discomfort of needles drawing into our skin, the story we’re telling, the becoming of us.
It’s uncomfortable. Sitting, being tattooed.
It’s uncomfortable, being a canvas, being a subject.
All images courtesy of Rachel at Rae Ellen Photography.
And I can’t recommend Pete at Hallowed Ground, enough.
(Also, if you’re in Portland, for any reason at all, get yourself some Holy Donuts.)