Ribbons Tied Tight
When I was seventeen, I first saw the inside of a tattoo parlor. My eighteen year old ballet buddy convinced me to take her to Slave to the Needle to get her boyfriend's name put on her butt. I thought it was a terrible idea, but I was a big girl with a brand new, big(ger) city life and figured it would be fun to pretend to be hardcore. The guys in charge did not try hard enough to talk her out of her plan; I thought so even then. She laid nice and still and barely even winced, but when it was done, she did pass out. We had to sit there while a bunch of year 2000 proto-hipsters fed her lollipops and asked her about the president and the date. Over the next few weeks, sometimes she'd have me check her tat for danger signs. I remember it looking like a purple bruise that strangely oozed blood. Exercise, tights, and leotard were daily, unavoidable irritants. All this to say, I walked away with mixed feelings about the whole process.
In 2006, my life was in a completely different phase. That tattooed friend was long gone (as was her boyfriend who cheated on her within six months). Brendan and I were married, and I hadn't taken a ballet class for a few years. It was my senior year at the University of Washington Business School. Wild, blind stabs for practical success were my new game. I always say that I went to biz school in order to come out with an employable degree (in case Brendan died or something), but I also chose business because it was supposedly difficult to be admitted. Surely, I though, I could still do something hard and impressive. I would have gone to med school, but I was too deflated and too poor after losing ballet. "Laugh and play; go BA," seemed like a good idea.
I chose Human Resource Management for my focus because I was still dealing with my own miserable Workmen's Comp case. I wanted to learn how to help and protect workers. Turns out, I really liked the coursework. Organizational behavior, workforce motivation, and management techniques are all quite valuable in my volunteer and SAHM jobs. One of my favorite classes was "Hiring and Firing," though it wasn't formally titled that. The interview section was a great chance to use my performance chops. We did tons of mock interviews from each side of the table. The interviews were filmed, and we were required to view and critique ourselves for a heavily weighted paper. Watching myself on those tapes, I noticed something bizarre.
Before I tell you what I saw, we have to go back to the ballet days again. As soon as a dancer is given pointe shoes, she is taught to tuck in the "pigs ears," the little floating ends of peachy-pink ribbon. The ties are secured on the inside of the ankle in the little notch between the achilles and the ankle bone. The ends must be fully tucked, and it is considered a grave embarrassment to have your ribbons sticking out or, HEAVEN FORBID, flopping and loose! Every dancer learns to obsessively check her ribbons. I checked mine most times that I had a moment in the wings or in the back of the class. When I danced professionally, we would hairspray them to our tights to keep them stiff and in place.
Back to B-School.
Watching myself on the videos, I saw that in moments when I really had to think quickly to answer a tough question or whenever I felt nervous, I would reach down and rub my fingers over the place on my ankle where pointe shoe ribbons should be tied. I paid attention in my regular life after that and discovered that I was touching my ankles all the time! It's almost like a nervous tic. I haven't consistently worn pointe shoes since 2003 (!!!), but I still do it. I notice it in Bible studies when I'm trying to articulate something difficult or precious. I do it when Brendan and I are in a fight. I do it when I'm stressed.
I carried this ankle-touching thing around like a fun fact for a long time. Then, I recognized that it's connected to insecurity and fear and usually deserves attention. If I'm touching my ankles, I'm worried that I'm not ok or that I'm embarrassing myself.
A year ago or so, I came to a huge new landing in my personal/emotional/healing development. I accepted that I am still a dancer. For so long I'd felt like the dancer in me died, but it turns out I had just buried that part of me out of grief, fear, and shame. Thank God that those are not things he leaves us in forever. He helped me see that I'm one, whole person. I've been messed up by the bad things that happen and that bad things that I have done and do, but He loves me and is pleased with who He made me to be. Around that time, I began drawing tiny bows on my ankles in that spot where the ribbons should tie.
I love the idea that God will not destroy everything here when time finally changes and eternity is revealed; He's going to make everything new. Maybe women's stretch marks will glitter all Twilight-style. Maybe deep wounds that changed us and made us better in the end will somehow be visible in our new, perfect, never-ending bodies. I don't know; I'm just imagining. Drawing the bows, I wondered if maybe someday my new body wouldn't just be able to dance but would somehow signal to everyone around me that performing, dancing, sharing, showing are built into the unique way I represent God. Maybe I'll get feet that can go en pointe without shoes. Chances are it's all going to be WAY better than anything I can imagine.
Naturally, I started thinking about getting a tattoo instead of constantly drawing on myself like a kid.
Accepting that I'm an artist has been an essential step in becoming a writer. I had to punch through all the PTSD-like fear I have of putting myself out there for the sake of art. Since the "I am a dancer" post last year, I WROTE A WHOLE BOOK and a lot of other stuff too. There will be a lot of fun announcement over the next few weeks, but the first is: I got the tattoo.
One of my dearest friends moved to Manhattan this summer. Before her kids' bunkbeds were filled by her children, another friend and I borrowed them. I had only been to New York three times: once to audition for School of American Ballet, once to study there, and once to show off my first baby to family. This fourth visit did not disappoint. Do you remember how much you can get done on a vacation without kids?! We three kid-free moms ran all over that town! I kept thinking, "Man, we can get a lot done when everyone has a good attitude!" Of course, we still had to stop to pee nearly as often as we would have with kids, but we did pretty darn good all things considered. We ate lunch at Cafe Sabarsky and hit the Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the Met. We did Milk Bar at 11 pm. We saw Waitress on Broadway and had tacos at Los Tacos #1 (ruining me for Seattle taco trucks FOREVER).
On our way down to Times Square for our show, I showed Lincoln Center to my friends. I demanded that my eyes stay dry and wrestled what I can only describe as "mixed feelings." I think it was on our walk away from there that someone said, "We need to do something crazy like all get tattoos." "I know exactly what I'd get," I said. "I'd do it right now if I knew a safe place to go." I also thought to myself, "and I budget for it."
The next day, as soon as we sat down on the Staten Island Ferry. Blythe said, "So Brenna and I have a plan for tonight." "Yeah," I said. "We decided we're getting those Jimmy Fallon ice cream slices." "No. It's better. You're getting a tattoo." Blythe, of course, had researched a safe place to go, made an appointment, and even called to tell Brendan. I was thrilled (particularly that Rib had approved the expenditure), and then proceeded to feel for the next three hours that I may vomit. But I kept it together.
When we walked into the tattoo parlor in Greenwich Village, I actually felt better. My naive honesty almost screwed me over when I marked that I HAD had alcohol in the last 8 hours, but my friends convinced the guy that it was actually longer than that *WINK WINK* and that the appointment had been made before our rosé lunch. He ripped up the form and let me do a new one. I thought of those guys letting an eighteen year old girl get a boy's stupid name on her butt and shook my head.
Vince, the tattoo artist, drew a great version of my little doodle, and he appropriately said, "Oh shit" upon hearing about my life with ballet and reasoning for the tiny bow. The tattooing itself was WAY too easy. I was hoping to use some of my great pain coping skill, but it was over before I even made it through one deep breathing cycle!
My little tattoo represents my deep, comforting belief that God loves me and the way He made me. I am a dancer, and now I get to be a writer too. Who knows what other ways God will give me over my lifetime to express the creativity I inherited from Him? As long as I have this body, when I reach down to anxiously rub my ankle, I'll find a little ribbon there that can never come untied. When I set foot upon whatever stage, whatever path or adventure lies before me, I can do it with a sense of security and approval. God is not waiting for me to embarrass myself or Him. He has given me everything I need to please Him, and this tiny tattoo, so long in emerging, reminds me of who I really am.