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What's That? It's My Tat.

My Tat: The Experience

She laughs, enthusiastically announcing, “It’s time to shave your arm!” Though she’s wearing a large breathing mask, I can see she’s enjoying this. She washes my left forearm, applies a soapy liquid, and proceeds to shave a six-inch swath just above my wrist. Her eyes are smiling (she later calls this a Tyra Banks’ “smize”) and says, “From what most guys tell me, the worst part is when your hair starts growing back. It’ll fuckin’ itch like crazy!” I snicker and lamely add, “Yeah, I bet.” She laughs and says, “I say the word ‘fuck’ a lot. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am.” I smile, laugh a bit, and encourage her that it doesn’t bother me. “It’s just a word,” I say. “In fact, it’s a good word.” I clumsily add, “It’s a word that should be used sometimes; that needs to be used sometimes.” What? I’m such an awkward walking #dadjoke, but I think she caught my sentiment and sincerity. She continues. Her enthusiasm and fun-loving nature is contagious as she begins to apply the stencil design.


My tattoo artist is Sonya Grenell, a twenty-year, award-winning practitioner. Sonya and her partner, Jesse James, have owned Light Touch Tattoo in Big Rapids, Michigan, since 2010. Ironically, I met Sonya as a student in the hallways of Ferris State University in the fall of 2009. Jesse, her then boyfriend, was a student of mine. Sonya would drop him off to the classroom and stay until lecture started. Then, she’d be waiting in the hallway for him after class. They were inseparable then, and they still are. Besides meeting Sonya at Ferris, I’d heard of her work from many former students. Her reputation preceded her and, after doing a bit of research (AKA FB stalking), I knew she would be the perfect artist for me.

For nearly four hours, Sonya entertains me with stories as she skillfully crafts my first-ever tattoo. “I want to have a unicorn Orbeez party,” she exclaims while using an electric pen-knife to scrape away levels of my skin and deposit ink. “Huh?” I stammer. “What’s that?” She explains her wildly creative idea in between detailed Polynesian skin etchings. The pain of the cutting is evident, but it doesn’t register much; perhaps a one-or-two out of ten. Maybe it’s because I’m excited. Maybe it’s because I’m consciously breathing and relaxing. Maybe it’s because I know I’m in good hands. In any case, the time seems to fly. Next thing I know, Sonya is finishing up, adding a touch of color, which breathes life into the design.

My Tat: The What

I sit alone in complete silence. Eyes softly closed. Palms open. The only movement; the rising and lowering of my chest and belly through the in-and-out motion of the breath. Present. Open. Awake. Here. Now. From nowhere-somewhere, the divine ineffable swoops in, like an owl in the darkness catching its prey, engulfing me in its love snare as I surrender to its all-encompassing embrace.

The owl, a symbol of wisdom, reminds me of this still small place of silence where I am broken open to find myself completely devoured by divine love. Beneath the owl is a mask. The mask symbolizes two things: 1. persona (my mask of identification with things of this world; my ego), and 2. death (my final destination where all masks are stripped away). The wings of the owl stretch out to form a complete circular “sleeve.” The wings morph into pages of a book, which is intended to commemorate the release of my book, Wisdom of the Animals. The Polynesian style is just something I think is freakin’ cool. A final addition, which will come soon, will be a symbol of the trinity in the reverse space created by the tips of the wings. I’m excited to see the design Sonya has for me that will complement the current look-feel.

My Tat: The Why

At 52-years-old, why get a tattoo? Well, it’ll sound a bit juvenile, but the answer is, “Because.” Because I’ve always wanted one. My desire for a tattoo hasn’t gone away over decades. I’m 52. When should I do it if not now?

Honestly, the tougher question for me wasn’t, why get one? The more difficult question for me was, what’s holding you back? Of course, like many folks, one of my biggest apprehensions was the “forever” piece. What in the world do I want on my skin FOREVER? It seemed daunting, but obviously, I worked through this.

The deeper reason I didn’t get a tattoo has taken time for me to wrestle with. In trying to be authentic and vulnerable, I’ll share my conclusion: it’s because I know some of my loved ones consider tattoos questionable at best, and disreputable at worst. Odd, right? At 52 I’m still concerned with what others might think. And yet, it’s true. We are social beings. The fear of rejection or ostracization is real. Some may perceive this decision as a bit rebellious and reckless. That’s okay. Maybe it is. That said, I know I’m loved. Grappling and coping with something as harmless as a response to a tattoo is part of my journey. Like mortar between bricks, these little challenges and adventures fill our life. They are part of everyone’s journey. No exceptions. #firstworldproblems

My Tat: The Lesson

I’ve spent most of my adult life learning about ego compulsions, personality systems, levels of consciousness, instinctual variants, and all kinds of spiritual paths. Here’s my conclusion: I’m absolutely positive my desire and action to get a tattoo is part of my ego compulsion. Of course it is. It would be silly to deny it, and yet… getting my tattoo was a completely conscious choice made over time.


Isn’t that how we’re supposed to work with our humanity? I think it is.

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