The Ink Link: To ink or not to ink? Oh, boy, what a question!

The Ink Link is an ongoing project at CN&CO that showcases tattoos in the workplace. One of the great things about a tattoo is it goes against the commonly-held viewpoint that “what you see is what you get”. There’s a misguided belief in certain quarters that in order to be a working professional, it is categorically *impossible* to have a tattoo… because how can someone with a tattoo be a professional? We are putting paid to that perception through the stories showcased in the Ink Link. If you or anyone you know would like to be featured, please get in contact with us.

This instalment comes from our friend Justin Pearse of Purple Group, who ponders the when, where and why of getting inked…

By Justin Pearse

Justin, pierced

The Ink Link is usually about tattoos; establishing their history, admiring their artistry and finding out their meaning to the interesting and colourful people that wear them.

So what place does an inkless ignoramus have in contributing to the archives of this enjoyable series you might ask? Well I’ve been thinking about inking up for a few years now and have been perplexed with how difficult I’ve found it to pull the trigger.

I’m 50 in just a few short years and 20-30 years ago when I first may have considered one, they were probably still a bit too left-field for me.

Today, they can be seen worn proudly by senior people in industries that largely used to frown on them like finance, law and medicine. The artistry is incredible with colour and shading that’s done as well on skin as it can be on paper.

While I thought I’d evaluated all the elements that had previously prevented me and come to the conclusion that now was the time, recent events have surprised me at how deep some of the conscious and unconscious attitudes towards tattoos go.

I’m a somewhat odd contrast in character; one part “nerdish” persona with conservative views on certain topics and a reasonably conservative appearance (no tattoos). Another part liberal creative spirit with some unconventional hobbies and interests, a multitude of alter-egos through which I explore those, and a not-always-so-conservative appearance (a past that includes some unconventional hairstyles, earrings, navel ring and tongue ring, though nothing at present).

I’ve often wrestled with what sparks the desire to get something like a piercing or a tattoo. Is it simply an expression of creativity and individualism that shouldn’t require too much thought, the conclusion I almost always arrive at. OR, more difficult to deal with, am I weird?

I think the impermanence of a piercing always made it a considerably easier decision to make. The conservative side in me understood that once removed, there was scant trace, if any. And this despite an ultra-conservative view from my dad who once told me that if he noticed signs of an ear piercing on a male job applicant, he’d immediately disregard him for the position. That view didn’t stop me however and on the first day I arrived at university, I got a piercing in each ear.

Out of respect, I never wore the earnings in front of him, but when it was brought to his attention for the first time, I endured a very uncomfortable and angry two days. On the night of the discovery, I was delighted to overhear a close friend of his remind him that I was still the same son about whom he’d boasted a day or two before, saying how proud he was of me. I don’t think it placated him much and I continued not wearing my earrings in front of him out of a sense of respect.

Oh, the 90s

So why the introduction to my background and psyche? It’s important in understanding why I feel like I’ve gone through the wringer in my consideration of a tattoo. I know that a multitude of conscious factors (family, upbringing, friends, schooling, etc.) and even more difficult to understand unconscious factors influence one’s attitude towards life, and in turn obviously tattoos.

Historically, my conservative side always seems to have won the debate; my head awash with negative thoughts and questions. What would my parents think? I work in a more formal, professional industry. What if I dislike the design in a few years? It’s permanent. Am I having a midlife crisis?

What I was also certain about was that I didn’t want t get a meaningless tattoo. The world is awash with too many cool-looking Asian symbol tattoos that are actually items on a restaurant menu. There are no influential quotes or mantras that have guided my life, nor images or works of art that mean enough that I’d want them permanently on my body.

Over the past year or two I felt I’d eventually settled on satisfactory answers to most of those gnawing questions and decided to maybe push the tattoo-boat out again. The “meaning” I’m now comfortable with having permanently etched on me, is that of my wife and kids. So, I took the plunge and decided to discuss a few ideas with some artists. An originally simple idea of their names on some sheet music (a big part of my life) on the inside of my arm (so as not TOO visible), became a bolder idea to have an armband on my forearm (very visible).

Thinking I’d settled on something I liked, I decided to seek out the opinions of some trusted loved ones and got some measured responses that didn’t dissuade me. But, there were two nagging considerations I couldn’t shake.

Would getting a tattoo make it a considerably easier decision for my daughters to get one in future? Did I want my daughters to have tattoos? Confusion again.

Was I too old? Why did I need one now?

So, I decided to shelve the idea for a while and don some jewellery on the forearm in question to see if it would alleviate the desire and see how I felt.

But when quizzed by my mum about the jewellery at a family dinner about a month later, I could never have anticipated her reaction when I disclosed the fact that I was thinking about a tattoo. The word “disown” was actually bandied about.

Whenever I’d heard of parents threatening to disown their kids and, in some instances, going through with it – usually due to a difference in religion at marriage, in my frame of reference – I’d always thought it a particularly poor and sad choice to make. How could anyone disown their kids?

Our modern world is a complex place made infinitely richer by its diversity of colour, creed, language, style and worldviews. So what troubled my mum so much? There were a lot of the obvious old-school issues like embarrassment in front of one’s friends, old-fashioned associations with sailors and prisoners, etc.

She also asked me why I felt the need to get one. Despite not feeling that I needed to, I battled to explain it to her. I couldn’t help but think about my past. Why had I had so-called “stupid” hairstyles when I was growing up? Why did I feel the need to get earrings, a navel ring (certainly not something you see on men very often) and a tongue ring? Was it a need to feel different? Was it a need to stand out from the crowd? Was a tattoo even so serious a thing that it required this level of existential self-analysis?

While my mum grilled me on one side of the dinner table, I heard my younger brother – who has no tattoos – discussing the issue heatedly with my equally troubled dad. The dinner much disintegrated after that.

After dinner I told my mum I thought her reaction was sad. She apologised and agreed it was extreme, but said she was still troubled by the idea of me getting a tattoo. She asked if we could chat about it in more detail if and when I became serious about pursuing it.

So where am I now?

Still interested, but currently very much tattoo-less and probably more confused than before. One of my initial reactions was just to go ahead as a bit of a fuck-you, but I couldn’t help thanking that response was immature and self-serving. I want to at least be measured and considerate in my approach. I just can’t believe it’s proven such a big decision and that I’ve yo-yoed so much in my thinking.

If I do go ahead, I think the right forearm – the one that’s exposed when I shake hands – may be too visible. A return to the subtler inside upper arm may be the ticket, or maybe I’ll grow old always wondering what it would be like to be inked.

Till then, I’ll follow the Ink Link series and continue to live vicariously through the brave, cool and colourful people featured in it.