Gambier Ink: Tattoos Around Campus, Part XVII

Willow Green ’21

I think a lot about the way that we modify ourselves as an act of agency and expression. My tattoo was a way of setting a reminder into my skin. The image synthesizes a recurring image in a few of my favorite poems. The two most important quotes:

“We did not make ourselves is one thing
I keep singing into my hands
while falling
asleep” – “We Did Not Make Ourselves” by Michael Dickman

“Soon it will be over,
which is precisely what the child in my dream said,
holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky
hurtling our way like so many buffalo,
who said it’s much worse than we think,
and sooner; to whom I said
no duh child in my dreams, what do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?
Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you. Every day.” – Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay

There are many, many more quotes, including by these two poets (the first poets I ever read), that culminated into this image. The heart of it is a return to self…. I have always found washing my hands, splashing my face, and drinking from the sink incredibly grounding. I have had so many times I’ve needed to be grounded. There have been many, many times that I’ve needed to remember that, though I did not get to make every choice that shapes this life, there is a whole catalog of beauty to be grateful for.

The act of getting the tattoo was one of these moments of beauty. I went to White Raven in Westerville, OH and met my lovely, lovely artist Emma Feld (seriously. Check out her work. I’m in love). I was shy at first. Imposter-ish. But Emma brought me into the space. We talked about everything. Kenyon. Childhood. Dance. Mental illness. Love. Mysticism. I felt like I had given this very important task to someone I could trust, and having her imbued in the piece is something I am incredibly grateful for.

In the hours after I got my tattoo, I felt powerful. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to get a text from my friend Jess (shoutout for writing this article) telling me that Ross Gay was in Columbus. I turned around and drove to Gramercy books. Late. Shaking with anticipation (you need to understand how much I love the ray of sunshine and brilliance that is Ross Gay). He spoke about gardens and small delights and giving ourselves the space to loiter in this life. To find space in general. To ground ourselves in gratitude and genuine curiosity. Really, a lovely talk.

I squeaked up to him afterward, clutching The Book of Delights. Nervous. When he said hello, I did a full star struck panic chatter. I don’t think I properly let him speak. I just pointed at the freshly unwrapped tattoo and teared up. This was the poet that I return to over and over and over and over again to remind myself that there is beauty to be found in the smallest things. I was showing him the tattoo I had received LITERALLY TWO HOURS EARLIER in reference to his books. I didn’t even get a picture.

I told him how my tattoo was my way of inscribing a reminder of life and love onto myself. It reminds me that there is a way to return from darker times and that simple acts are powerful. That washing my hands is truly a delight.

Again, I didn’t get the picture, but I did get the book signed and I want to share the inscription:

“Willow — Oh — yes. We should love ourselves. In joy together, Ross Gay”

The “in joy together” enraptures me. It is so easy to forget. But, truly, it is so important that we remember each other and share all the love, joy, and gratitude to be found.

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