Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I spent some time recently having some work done on my body. I've been doing a lot of work on my internal stuff, so it seemed time to decorate my outside. Here's what my arm looked like early last Friday afternoon:

I had booked an appointment with Jennifer Moore at Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland, Maine back in July? August? It was months ago, I know that much. The economy is in the toilet, but she's booked solid for months ahead. Go figure. I made a second appointment at the same time, knowing that we'd need more than one visit for the work I wanted done.

Regular readers here know that I am attending seminary with designs on becoming a minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Luckily, it's a rather non-traditional tradition. The symbol of the UU faith tradition is a chalice with a flame. There are lots of versions of it out there, some official, some not, some ornate, some simple. I found one that was made in the style of a Celtic knot and decided I wanted it on the inside of my right arm. Like so:

The placement of this tattoo is purposeful. It is for me to see, not necessarily for me to show the world. I want to be reminded, always, that every time I reach out my hand, I am a representative of my faith tradition. I am that UU that someone might remember, and I want to be mindful of that in my interactions with people. How do I want them to remember that UU minister? Yeah. So that's there for me. The picture above shows the original transfer of the design. Jennifer and I wanted it to be taller, but to do that would have meant the wings of the chalice would have wrapped much too far around, so she free-hand drew longer flames. Here is what it looked like by the time she got done inking in the outline:

See the longer flame? It ended up being more trinity-ish than I had intended, but that's ok. I am not as fearful of the Trinity as some. Christianity is part of our tradition, even if the Unitarians rejected the notion of a god with three parts, the Universalists had less issue with it. I like to grumble on occasion that UUs will celebrate the holidays of every god but three. We'll do solstice, we'll do Hanukkah, we'll do Kwanzaa, hell, we'll do things that one member might remember from childhood in the old country even though none of the rest of us have ever heard of it, but look out! Don't we freak out a bit when someone mentions baby Jesus on December 24. Look, I know that the UU church is a faith tradition of many refugees who have been treated badly by other churches, and that many of those other churches were Christian. But I won't give the guy called Jesus a hard time. He was a man after my own heart: loud-mouthed, opinionated, prone to pissing off those in charge, a champion of the oppressed. There is a fair amount of mythology built around his life and teachings, including the belief that he was the son of god, the second arm of the Trinity. I find that idea no more or less ridiculous than believing in tree spirits or the gods of water and air. It works for some. Good for them. It doesn't work for others. Good for them, too. But no hitting, kids. There is value in all faiths. Sort out the bullshit that mankind has built up around each faith and you're likely to find very similar things inside. And that's good. End of sermon for today. I have a trinity flame on my wrist. I like it there. And here is what it looks like shaded in:

The heart is important in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons. A Celtic knot of interwoven hearts is a beautiful thing. I liked this design:

Minus, of course, the rosary beads. But really, that's the image I liked best. Jennifer did amazing things to that design, stretching it here and there, squeezing it in other places, to make it so it would translate well on a three-dimensional irregular cone that is my forearm. Oh, and one that moves and will twist in interesting ways. Here is what it looked like in process:

We decided that the spaces in the knot would be black, so Jennifer set about filling them in. It was a long process, and when we took a break and she snapped this next picture, we'd been at the actual tattooing stuff for about 5 hours:

Yeah, I was tired. For the record, five hours is about when the endorphins just completely run out. The last hour was brutal. But here's what it looked like when the voids were filled:

and here is what the chalice looks like overlapping the edges of the heart knot:

You can see at the bottom of the chalice where we left the two ends of the knot open. Jennifer is going to connect them with some custom thing she'll draw for our next appointment. I was done after this session. I was exhausted, and I am sure she was too. She smeared me with gooey salve stuff, wrapped my whole arm thrice in plastic wrap, taped the edges and sent me off into the night with aftercare instructions and a hug.

The tattoo is healing well. It was really sore for a couple days, but now it is at that awful itchy stage where all I want to do is take at it with a green pot scrubbie. Aaaarrrrgggghhhhh. I won't do it, but DAMN it itches.

I will go back next month to get all the colors done, plus to fill in a couple gaps and to finish that knot across the underside of the chalice. I expect that date will hurt as much as this one did. Oof. Still, it's going to be very, very, VERY cool when it's done.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

oh dear. I'm a bass.

ok. so I am not doing so well at this NaBloPoMo thing. that's two days I have missed in 9. oops.

I am not going to beat myself up about it, but will continue as best I can with truths.

Day 10 truth: I am a bass.

I fish. You know that. I fish for trout mostly, and bass later in the summer when the trout slow down. First a few words about their personalities.

Trout are persnickety fish. Temperamental. Fussy. Uncooperative.

For example, if the water temperature is too cold, they won't bite. If the water is too warm, they won't bite.

If the water level is high from a rain, they won't bite. If the water is low from lack of rain, they won't bite.

If they want a fly and you offer a worm, they won't bite. If they want a worm and you offer one, but don't put it in exactly the right place and make it move in precisely the right way, they won't bite.

If the moon is full, they won't bite. If they are within a few miles of the coast and the tides are astronomically high, they won't bite. Even safely in their freshwater lakes.

Pain in the ass fish, trout.


Bass are larger, bulkier fish. They have hard scales unlike the silky tiny things on a trout's skin. Bass are territorial, staking out a place they like and defending it from intruders. They will eat when there is food available, even if they are not hungry.

You throw something out there that makes a splash, sparkles, wiggles a little bit and maybe makes a little noise, and that bass is going to hit it.


Which is why, when someone wants me do do something, to volunteer for this or that, they'll have the pretty woman with the flirty charms call and cajole me into it. Because they know I'll strike at it. Every. damned. time.

This weekend, I shared this philosophy with some friends. Most of the guys sided with me on the bass end of the scale. Most of the women agreed that we were bass. And most of them appeared to be trout. Even the ones that sparkle and wiggle just right.


It's not easy being a bass.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

made it! (Not quite)

It is just past midnight and I missed the deadline for NaBloPoMo for Saturday.

But you know what? I wouldn't trade this Saturday for the world.

Bonus is that this post now counts for Sunday. I'm going to try to keep the rest of November honest and post every day. Tired now. Will write more on Monday.

Friday, November 5, 2010

weekend at home with some friends

Day 5 truth: I am in a happy place right now.

It's the truth. Not Disneyland, but happy just the same. And having been to Disneyland as a child, I'd hazard a guess that this retreat/workshop weekend is wholly less weird and creepy than 7-foot tall "dwarves" with heads the size of Barcaloungers. Just saying.

Where I am: I am at a conference center in the Berkshires of Massachusetts with something like 70 of my closest friends. I walked in the door and got hugs and greetings from a dozen people and it was marvelous. These people are serious about hugs. Black belt huggers, I think would be an appropriate description. These are not those silly cheek-to-cheek-kiss-the-air-in-your-general-vicinity kinds of hugs, oh no. These are full-frontal, heart-to-heart, warm, loving hugs that can last a minute or more. It is heavenly.

I had a massage this week from a Reiki Master, ordained minister in the church of the Feminine Divine who also happens to be a psychiatric RN and has a bunch of other impressive initials after her name. She was referred to me by my therapist, and she does lots of work with people healing from childhood trauma. It was the first nurturing touch I have experienced in a while, and it was overwhelming. I expect this weekend will be overwhelming as well. I'm looking forward to it. So much so that I'm not going to freak out too hard if I don't make Saturday's NaBloPoMo entry. Oh, I'll pledge now to try, but I am not going to give myself a hernia to make it happen, especially if there is wonderfullness here that I would rather partake of instead.

Be well.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

digging deep

Day 4 truth: what happens to an infant matters later in life.

When a baby is born, there are some pretty basic things it needs: one end kept full, the other end kept empty, warmth, no loud noises, and being held and cuddled and cooed over.

When I was born, I was the sixth child of a single mother 23 years old. I was the only one sired by my father, the first three having one father, the next two another, and then me. No high school education, no job skills, and the year was 1965. Birth control was illegal in Massachusetts back then. A woman in my mother's situation didn't have a lot of choices about how she could support herself. Chances are good she hooked up with men who could take care of her and her kids. My parents never married. Indeed, they split up early in my life. I did not get a lot of regular attention as far as I can tell. What probably happened was I woke up yelling, was changed, given a bottle and stuck in a playpen. When I yelled, chances are the pattern was repeated, but not always, and not regularly.

When I came to live with my father's sister and parents, I was eight months old and could not sit up on my own. I thrived on the love and attention I got there, but some pretty basic lessons had already been learned. Life was not secure. Sometimes I got hungry and nobody fed me. Sometimes my diaper needed changing and nobody did it for a long time. And sometimes I was left alone in my playpen, with no stimulation for a very long time. I was not held or cuddled or nurtured much at all, I bet.

Psychologists tell us that the first year of a baby's life is when she learns that she is loved and safe and that people care for her and keep her warm and fed and dry. I didn't get that until I was 8 months old. Irreparable damage was already done. Much as I absorbed the love and affection and nurturing heaped upon me by my aunt and grandparents, there was an underlying desperation that made me want to crawl inside their skins to be with them and be held and loved. It is only now that I am able to identify and name that need.

I remember when I was little, after my father married and took me away from my aunt and grandmother, how I longed to go back for visits, how I loved to be held and cuddled and hugged when I went! My father and stepmother did not hide their disdain for my need for physical affection, and instructed me not to hug my aunt and grandmother (my grandfather had died by then) like I wanted (needed) to. I was scolded and punished if I was too affectionate with them.

The pattern was set. My source for love and affection and physical touch for my formative years was going to be my aunt and grandmother, and my father controlled when I got to see them and get my need for love met. I don't know whether it was fortunate or not, but my grandmother loved me very much and would insist that I come visit during school vacations. That set things up for me to be used as a pawn. My father extracted all kinds of things from his mother in order for him to bring me to her. He needed money to fix the truck. He couldn't afford my braces, so she paid, and countless other things I heard discussed in tense tones over the telephone in the kitchen as I lay in my bed praying that I please, please, please God, be allowed to go to visit over the holidays.

Thus, love became a bargaining chip, a thing that was withheld as punishment, a thing that could be denied if I misbehaved, or if my grandmother did not pay up. It was never guaranteed. It was always something I didn't dare hope for, for fear of having my hopes dashed. But my heart hoped anyway, and often it was broken. Often I was denied.

I remember wanting my father to love me. God, but I just wanted him to be happy with me, to be proud of me, to tell me he loved me for no reason but I was his daughter and he was glad of it. But it didn't happen.

I still want it.

Inside, I am still a very hurt child who wants her father to love me, to show affection, to hold me just because and to tell me he's proud of me.

As far as I can tell, he has never been capable of that. The truth of the matter is, he probably will never be capable of showing me the kind of love I needed from a father.

And now I have an opportunity to go see him on his birthday. He will be 69 years old. He has Alzheimer's. He's never going to be better than he is now. And what he is now is not great.

This will take some more thinking.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

truth: trepidation

Today I am tired.

I was up very late last night reading about Christians in Africa, and getting more and more disgusted with the human race and western missionaries in particular. Good grief.

Learned a lot, wrote a little, and then learned some more in class tonight with a really cool guy who just happens to be a Christian from Africa. Only he's a native African. Waaaaaaayyyyyy different perspective. Very, very cool session.

I won't go into the political situation out country and my state is in after yesterday's elections. I have bigger fish to fry.

You all know my story of infant abandonment, I have probably outlined some of the bullying and abuse that my father visited upon me as a child and the manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior instilled by everyone else.

And you may remember that my father has been diagnosed in the past year or two with Alzheimer's.

My sister told me yesterday that he has asked that I be invited to celebrate his birthday this year in early December.

I am unsure what to do, beyond checking with my therapist and thinking hard about such a decision. It could be an opportunity for closure. It could be an opportunity for healing and forgiveness. It could be an ambush.

I am concerned, and with reason. I am learning now in therapy just what lessons about safety, security and love I learned from this guy. I am sure he did not intend to screw me up forever, but he could not give what he did not have, and I came from a rough place to start. Whatever the case, I learned some pretty screwed up things at the time in my life when I should have been learning security and love. I'll write more about them tomorrow. Tonight I am just trying to get enough written to post before midnight and not feel embarrassed about a pathetic effort.

And I think this just barely makes it.