I’m not really a tattoo girl. That might be an understatement: the notion of a tattoo terrifies me. Not because I hate needles or pain—I’m not exactly fond of either, but they don’t bother me especially. But getting a tattoo is decision making that is way too far down the scale of permanence. I shudder when people suggest I will someday want to buy a house and that would be something I could sell. Sure, laser tattoo removal exists, but I’m not sure I would ever elect to do anything to my body that requires being burned off with a laser if I change my mind. It’s not quite that I’m fickle, though it is true that I’ve hated virtually every pair of shoes I’ve ever bought within two weeks of purchase, but more that I’m the sort of person who is paralyzed by the question: What is your favorite X? Or even, What are your top ten Y? If you want to ask me that question, you’d better be prepared to give me paper, a pencil, and 24 hours to answer you.
I know who I am, but choosing something to visually represent that to others, something I’ll remain connected to and proud of displaying, for years of my life? That’s daunting. I’m simply not up for the task. But these people are, by golly. They not only know what their favorite books or lines from books are, but they have happily permanently affixed them to their bodies. Leaving aside that I’m not a tattoo girl, let’s envision the weirdest possible mugging: if someone put a gun to my head, I couldn’t think of a single image or line from literature that I’d want to identify myself by to the world. There are those that I love, certainly. I embrace Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book so much that I’m slightly bitter when my 5-year-old nephew beats me to declaring that “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” But I wouldn’t put that on my body, certainly. The final lines of The Great Gatsby are gorgeous, but again kind of bleak. The best lines in literature are often insightful about things that are more dismal than celebratory. Tolstoy’s observation on unhappy families is true and brilliant, but I think that tattoo might be perceived as a cry for help! And much as I love plenty of childhood books, I don’t quite have the personality for the cartoon embrace of kidhood writ across my skin. So I guess I’d just have to call that mugger’s bluff and see how it goes. Or at least ask him to make it multiple choice.
What about you? Any literary tattoos adorning your skin? Or any you hope to get? Or would if you ever found yourself at gunpoint?