Last week I described my tattoo odyssey. It’s a complicated but meaningful backstory; anyone who missed it can read it at the end of this week’s commentary. (And thanks for the nice comments, SF, Fredi B., Marc, Carol and Myra!)
I can add that it has given me strength; since I got it I’ve tackled a few other things I’ve waited too long to do.
Would you tattoo?
For some readers, the answer is yes, and the sweet spot for late in life tattoos seems to be 67- 68. Deanna Q got hers at 68, Loretta got hers at 67 and Martha H. chose to honor RBG at 68, literally putting some skin in the game:
“‘I Dissent+’ followed by small gold crown” graces my right lower forearm on the underside…”
A few people, like Leroy, are on the cusp of getting one, as well, or have found, like Lillianna, a non-permanent alternative.
Reader Mona Lisa shared two thoughtful posts about her tattoo odyssey, and how one can honors a cherished memory….and a few that…didn’t. Read her posts in the comments.
And lastly, here’s to Kathy R., with congratulations. She, too, waited 40 years before taking a dive into the unknown, and got married again, at 70.
We’ll keep this column open for more comments and stories. Meanwhile, for those who missed it, following is a repeat of the post that inspired it all.
My Tattoo Backstory
The image came to me in a dream and stayed with me for more than 40 years, emerging fully formed, without warning or explanation: a snake, rampant, wrapped about a lightning bolt, fangs bared. It remained in the back of my mind for years. (I thought “What was that??!!” when I woke up). It wasn’t until somewhat recently – after a very long spell of very bad luck – that the image re-emerged in another dream.
I began to consider that this was a reminder that I had more strength in me than I realized or acknowledged (something many friends have told me but I didn’t take seriously).
Maybe it was time I own that with this avatar.
My brother, an artist, did a sketch based on my dream, and I took it with me for a meeting at Three Kings Tattoo with Caz Williamson, a tattoo artist. We discussed colors, placement, pain (yes, there would be some), and size.
I was easily the oldest person in the tattoo parlor, and I found it a welcoming environment. Others in the waiting area (everyone had vaccine proof and wore masks, of course) brought designs they wanted, or browsed through the collections of tattoo designs (called ‘flash books”) on offer – some simple, others complex and colorful.
I put a lot of thought into my own imagery and colors. Red snakes are considered lucky in Eastern cultures, and snakes are considered avatars of healing and of power, in a defensive, non-aggressive way. I spent a lot of time thinking about a motto and decided on “Evinco,” Latin for “I prevail.”
Caz and I discussed the nuances of the design and the colors (he really is a tattoo artist). He mentioned that it takes a deft touch to put tattoos on older skin because it’s thinner…”like putting magic marker on thin tissue” he explained. He also said that over time the ink under the skin spreads regardless of the age of the tattoo subject, but my skin was in pretty good shape.
The price, a per-hour rate, was based on an estimate of the approximate length of time to design, prep and create the tattoo. I asked for colors with vegan ingredients (to lessen the chance of an allergic reaction); Caz told me he made most of his own colors (which is pretty cool). I was told to shave my upper arm, and eat something before my appointment the following week.
Caz showed me three color sketches he made based on my design – he made some neat enhancements and grace notes that made the design more compelling and elegant. We picked out the best solution and he made a template. I was pretty excited when I saw the template outlined on my arm It was getting real!
I stretched out on a table and he went to it. We chatted about colors, our histories, his work, and my work while he settled into a rhythm. It was 90 minutes of a buzzing sensation with pressure. I almost fell asleep. He kept checking in and I said “nope, no pain.” (I took an Advil beforehand but I’m not sure how much difference it made.) I was sorry when it was over. Everybody in the shop was amped about it. I heard a few “That’s beautiful, man” accolades from people in the parlor.
He applied some ointment, and a bandage, gave me aftercare instructions and told me to stop by again anytime. “Nice working with you” he said. Ditto!
I took the bandage off the following morning and started the aftercare regimen: two or three times daily, clean my hands with antibacterial, fragrance-free soap and gently clean the area, let it air dry, and gently pat a fragrance-free moisturizer with clean hands. (It’s got to be free from bacteria.) It will take up to four weeks to heal on the surface and up to six months to heal fully. (I did a lot of research on tattoo aftercare.) Meanwhile, no swimming in pools or the ocean, no submerging in water, no steam room, no loofah scrubs or rough towels, no scratching, and no sunburns. (Autumn is a good time to get a tattoo!)
I returned to the gym after a couple of days; light workouts only. (No sweating!) haven’t had any scabbing but it does itch from time to time; I clean it often and lightly pat on a small amount of fragrance free moisturizer.
So why’d I finally allow myself to have it? I wanted something to remind me, going forward, that despite pandemics, psycho landlords, health emergencies and bad breaks over the years (some real humdingers, too) or to come, I prevailed and will continue to do so. It was a way to own and affirm my sense of agency, so it had to be present tense: I prevail.
I’m waiting before getting my booster. I already had the flu shot and got my other vaccines up to date. From now on I’m only getting blood drawn and needles in my left arm.
I can’t quite explain it, but having it makes me feel better. I actually draw strength from it. Maybe it was that it was something I had thought about doing for myself and I finally did it. I finally took action and gave myself something I had wanted for a very long time. I finally did it and it feels great. Talk about Aging with Attitude!
But how about you? What have you finally done for yourself, or given yourself, after thinking about it or wanting it for a long time? Let us know in the comments!
Virge Randall is Senior Planet’s Managing Editor. She is also a freelance culture reporter who seeks out hidden gems and unsung (or undersung) treasures for Straus Newspapers; her blog “Don’t Get Me Started” puts a quirky new spin on Old School New York City. Send your suggestions for Open Threads to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am 78 & have never wanted a tattoo however, after my adult son took his own life a year ago, I want a bear done over my heart because his nickname was Bear. I feel like I can endure the pain because he endured the pain of being bi-polar for years.
Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. I am living my dream of being a mystery writer. I had my first book published at 60. Now I’m a national best selling author working on my 26th book.
No tattoos for me but what I did do after being single for 40 years was get married. After raising children alone and rising in my profession I decided at 70 years old to get married again. The no expectations of white picket fences and babies but a wonderful companion who is so good to me. What would I have done through COVID without this funny loving companion?!
In honor of RBG, a young lawyer colleague convinced 68 year old lawyer me to honor a woman whose impact on our chosen careers deserved to be a part of our bodies.
Thus -“I Dissent followed by small gold crown” graces my right lower forearm on the underside. Thus, I am forever bonded to that young lawyer and to that iconic lawyer. It gives me fortitude to continue to dissent when dissent is essential.
Next up when I turn 70 is “Nevertheless She Persisted” on the left lower forearm top side. Possibly the best message to head into the final decades (hopefully) of life.
I loved your article. I have always wanted a tattoo that is meaningful to me. I got one when I was 67. The tattoo artist is a young Black woman artist and sculptor named Doreen Garner. It reads “Fear nothing but God.” It is an Akan proverb. Doreen copied it from my handwriting. And…it is vegetable ink.
Years ago in my thirties, I was a single mom in a relationship with a biker. We would often go to weekend biker outings, sometimes on my own bike, riding with Harleys and some guys wore their colors.
There was a woman who I would often see who had her whole upper back tattooed, and she would wear tops that exposed the whole thing. I often thought about getting a tattoo then – when it wasn’t the popular thing to do, like it is now.
I had two daughters, one a teenager. They would stand outside as Marty and I were leaving and my older daughter would say, “and don’t come home with a tattoo”. I heard it loud and clear and thought that I needed to respect her wishes as an example for her to listen to mine.
Now, as I see tattoos as ‘the thing to do’ and people covering their entire bodies with them, I am happy that I listened. I would not want to be one of many and what I would have chosen then, would not be what I would be happy with now.
I have TONS of tattoos which I have collected since the age of 30. Some I have deeply regretted and actually had had to have them either surgically removed or lasered off, both much more painful and more expensive than the stupid tattoos themselves, because I hate them so much.
I firmly believe a tattoo chooses you; when you force it or get one because someone else might be impressed, you will have great and for sure very expensive regret if you try to have them removed.
I had some vile chess pieces put on my back years ago which I had to think long and hard how to cover up when that romance hit the skids. So I created something I found beautiful out of that challenging shape, creating a mountain scape to cover the chess bits, and a series of gorgeous ancient Vulcan scriptures from Star Trek I found online flowing out of them. [Google “vulcan script” images!] I love it now!
But while I am finally at peace with the stories and/or the people who were attached to all my tattoos at this stage of life, I did make an effort in my 50s to cover up or modify the ones that were really causing me tons of stress because I hated them so much and the cost was worth it. But quite frankly, when I was 30, I always thought I would never have to worry about regrets because I was sure that by the time I turned 60, surely someone would have found a way to remove tattoos cheaply, painlessly, without surgery or lasers!! Well I am 61 now, …. and I guess I am stuck with them!!
That is the arm of a young woman. Impressive.
It looks sooo good! I’m glad you affirmed yourself and have this forever reminder of what you’re made of! Keep on keeping on
I got my first tatoo at age 68!!!
Hi …. I’ve always wanted a tattoo but was afraid that after a while I would regret it since it’s so permanent. (I’m 73) Then I found Ephemera …, a tattoo parlor whose tattoos only last a year!
I admire the thought and planning you put into getting such a permanent emblem of your dream. Good for you!
Way to go girl. You got something you have been wanting for a long time and that’s a good thing.
Myra: I have always thought about getting a tattoo. I have my design ready but needed a push. Your story is the push I needed.
Go for it! My aunt wanted to commemorate the SIDS death of her first granddaughter decades ago but my uncle was rabidly anti-tattoo. When he died a few years ago, my aunt not only got the cherished angel image on the grave as her first tattoo, the one she had wanted for all those years, she got like 10 more since then just because, at 81 years old, she can do whatever she wants to now without anyone saying “NO!” to her! Her grandson is tattooed from head to toe pretty much and he takes his Nan to his favourite tattoo shop every few months and it has been a lovely bonding experience for them both as it was his older sister who passed from SIDS, and she passed before he was even born. The tattoos my aunt has chosen are perhaps not the most beautiful tattoos I have every seen, but they are to her the most beautiful tattoos SHE has ever seen, and that is all that matters. Go for it! I only hurts once and to heck with what anyone else thinks. Every tattoo usually tells a very painful story and IMO it is a beautiful way to ritualize and experience that pain one last time, in order to release it. Good pain in. Bad pain out.