I was thinking about getting my new tattoo. It's a laborious process that involves me actually drawing the image for it and getting used to it hanging next to my bathroom mirror for a few weeks, then revising it and looking at it for another month, forgetting about it, drawing it on myself in various areas, lots of stuff. It takes years. All so that when the image is committed to my flesh for the duration of my natural life, if I find fault with it, I can only blame myself. I can't explain why this is an important component. If I should look down in the shower one day when I am sixty and suddenly hate my tatoo, if I should be able to trace my discontent to the oversight of some anonymous tattoo artist I should never have trusted with my future in the first place; this is the moment that I will despair. However, if I can follow the train of events that led me to imprint myself with this regrettable stamp, step by torturous step through every fail-safe of concept and design and execution, I will accept my decision and live with it in happiness.
Yes, I actually live that far in the future sometimes. No, I don't understand how I cope with it either. Yes, I think it is why I'm so anxious and nervy. I'm working on it. It's hard. I'm doing the best I can, each moment. Some moments I can be a total cunt about it. Write me a postcard from tomorrow and we'll figure out the answer.
Anyway, I was thinking about all that (yes, that was just the setup, now I'm going to tell the actual story. This is how I've always been, and yet you're so surprised every time. And I'm so surprised that you're surprised. What a world). There's a conversation you have with "the non-tattooed" if you have one, even a tiny one. The, "but what does it FEEL like?" conversation. Because they ask if it hurts, and you can't answer properly, because it does, but it does so much more than hurt that hurting is kind of irrelevant. Your skin is suddenly and repeatedly invaded by irritant-clogged needles, much too quickly for your brain to mount any kind of response. It's a shock response, and the pain isn't so much dulled or killed as put in a waiting area. It's fully visible, and you can experience everything that it's doing, but it doesn't matter as much as what is actually going on right in you. Which is weirdly unexplainable. Like in "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson, when he talks about the sensation of, "It's almost just like...but it's not."
The two analogies that pop most readily to mind for me are, "it's like when you're on fire, or being electrocuted." The first problem is, it doesn't exactly feel like either of those things, it feels more like what those two things have in common. Also, it feels kind of like when you're really cold, like you've been out in freezing weather for longer than you should have been, and you come inside and lean up against a hot surface and don't realize that it's burning your skin through your clothes until it is too late. But not exactly like that. More like what that has in common with what the first two have in common.
Which leads us to the second problem. "Have you BEEN on fire?" the person I'm talking to asks with alarm? "Have you BEEN electrocuted and frozen and then burned upon defrost?" I am nonplussed. "Yes," I mildly answer. "Which time?"