“Maturity does not mean to become a captive of conceptualization. It is the realization of what lies in our innermost selves.” (Bruce Lee)
In 2002, soon after my divorce, I got my first tattoo. I had only been suffering with my chronic condition for a year, and within the year of its onset, I lost everything in my world – home, marriage, stability, a vision of the future, faith, hope, life.
Every day was an adventure in physical pain from my severe ulcerative colitis and emotional anguish from being cheated on by the one I cherished then thrown away like used trash. Every day, sustenance passed through me like my system didn’t work at all. Every day, I was forced to redefine my reality. Every day, I felt closer to death. Every day, I became a shadow of the man I once was.
I became something different, and that called for something different.
After failing at my one serious suicide attempt, I decided to get a tattoo. This was before the era of Artemis, before I had spent focused time on re-teaching myself art to help heal, before I designed tattoos for others. I didn’t have an idea about the concept, and didn’t really have a location in mind for the inking. I’m not sure what guided me to choose oriental kanji for my design, but I did feel synchronicity with the character: ghost.
I Am Ghost
On that day, my “ghost” era began. I decided on the oriental kanji for ghost as my first tattoo with black and red as the colors. I chose my upper right shoulder for the tattoo location. I hired a popular La Crosse tattoo artist to imprint the sigil.
I drew the kanji myself, though I literally traced the kanji printout instead of inking one myself like a talented calligrapher. By going that path, I fattened up the lines and angles of the character, and when the tattoo artist was done with his work on my shoulder, the kanji looked less like an oriental script for “ghost” and more like the numbers “47”.
I talk about this strange occurrence in my second book “Xenomorphine” (2013) in the passage “Ghost 47”.
The start of the darker road, the schism between who I was and who I was becoming. Diagnosed with two chronic health conditions only one year earlier, my life had completely unraveled. First it was my health, then my job, then my love, my marriage, my condo, my friends… and everything I knew as familiar. In one year following my prognosis, I was single, broke and living alone in a new, cursed world.
I felt like a ghost–physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And, thus, I adopted the nickname. It seemed to fit. Typically, people don’t assign themselves their own monikers. Friends or family bequeath such labels upon you. But, in this case, I felt like the incorporeal dead. Non-present. Translucent and disconnected.
The wires couldn’t be reconnected to life, not in the common means. In that darkness, someone else awoke. It was necessary to face the disassociation and make it part of me.
Now, here I am on the first day of my 47th year, and I feel like a ghost, more than I have at any point since getting the tattoo almost 20 years ago. With covid, silence is everywhere now. Solitary living is the norm for safety reasons. Since leaving social media, the distance from my friends and loved ones has grown.
Cloak of Fog
All roads have been clouded by the fog of my father’s death. The pall of the end times is ever-present. Failure is common and structural breakdown the way of this day.
Is it possible that a tattoo that I got two decades ago foretold the present? In years following, I haven’t been able to find and replicate the kanji I found in the inker’s shop. At this point, I’m not even sure if the kanji is legit, and if someone with understanding of the language could even decipher it now.
Now, it just looks like the number “47” encircled on my arm.
It’s grim business talking about death on the day of your birth. These matters are better left for stronger times, not days that make you realize how fast you’re slipping into spectre. However, the “ghost” moniker stuck with me in years following. It was my primary handle in Myspace, became a nickname that reflected me well when I was sick and everything of substance passed right through me. Since then, I have added a couple more “ghost tattoos”, including braille of the word “ghost” on the digits of my right hand (palm-side).
If anything, the ghosts are still haunting me. The ghosts of tragedy, of failure, and of paths not taken. Once, I didn’t believe that I would heal from the conditions that sapped the life from me. The future was limited and bleak, a roadmap of painful surgeries, uncomfortable living, and embarrassing situations.
Echoes in Ink
Through tenacity, persistence, and patience, I won hope back. But now it all feels like a dishonest exchange, a pyrrhic present offered by wicked giver. My fading and unfamiliar kanji feels like an ironic marker, a cryptic clock frozen in time.
Or maybe the hands of progress are being held back by the ghosts. Maybe the events of the last two years of my life were necessary to exorcise the demons and clear away the lingering haunts and guilt from my past. Maybe fading away offers resurrection.
Maybe year 47 is tabula rasa, the renewal, the calm after these storms of life.
I sure could use the respite. While I’m waiting for fate to offer that sort of grace, I spent my birthday much like I spent the rest of my year – distant, chill, and reflective. I painted/finished seven pieces today, and shots of the following are provided below. These haven’t yet been formally added to my Serenity Gallery, but they will appear in “Echoprism Volume 2”.
“Barely Alive” – multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 16×20
“Ever Adrift” – acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16
“Twenty-Twenty Vision” – multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 12x 16
“Death’s Caress” – multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20
“Freedom” – acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20
“Mystereons” – multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 12x 18
“House of the Harvester” – acrylic on triangle-shaped canvas, 16 x 16 x 16
Happy birthday to me. Happy Saturday to you. I hope you enjoy my birthday song of the day by a new favorite artist of mine, appropriately named Ghostemane.
May the next year not be so venomous.