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I recently celebrated a birthday. I chose to celebrate it by attending a stellar performance of “Phantom of the Opera” with my husband and a good friend, silencing my phone’s frequent ringtones heralding “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” messages from all corners of the technological world, and capping it off with a personal-best-speed 6-mile run. In the midst of all this, I received several birthday wishes and instruction from my father, that I could get ANYTHING I wanted…. except a tattoo.
That’s great!
because… I already have one tattoo… and I don’t want any more.
When I told my father this, he seemed surprised. “How did that happen?” he texted me.
Well, in the manner of all things sarcastic, I texted back that I consulted a tattoo artist, had a design drawn, sat in the chair, and got it done.
Isn’t that how all tattoos “happen”?
I never intended to keep my tattoo a secret. In fact, my dad reads my blog; I mentioned it here. But for people who’ve just met me or don’t read my blog or missed the whole half-a-sentence mention my tattoo got six months ago… here’s some details!
I chose to get it where it can be concealed in the workplace and shown off in a more casual summer atmosphere. Originally I wanted mine on my shoulder blade, but many friends told me in general tattoo-based conversations about their shoulder pain horror stories, so I nixed that idea. At the time I was working in business-to-business sales, and many colleagues had tattoos. I asked a couple of them where they got theirs done, called a couple of shops, and went in for one consultation.
I know many people who have TONS of tattoos; others are terrified of needles. I fall much closer to the “terrified of needles” camp, so I was kind of scared to get this done. Several friends (blind friends in particular) asked me about my experience getting a first tattoo, if it hurt, what my artist was like, how I knew things would be OK… the whole bit. I had to think a lot about it, because I lucked out; my one consultation was so easy and fluid that I never even considered getting another.
When choosing a tattoo artist, you’re effectively finding a doctor, a therapist and a graphic designer all in one. It’s an intensely intimate process and both artist and “canvas” need to be able to effectively communicate, otherwise…. not-cool things could happen… and they’re pretty permanent!
When I walked in for my consultation on an unseasonably warm Friday in January, I had no idea what I would be getting myself in for. The entire staff was warm and welcoming, and Jessie (the artist who would design and place my tattoo) and I sat and chatted about what I wanted, where, and how she could best describe her design for me as a blind customer. I’m pretty no-muss-no-fuss, and I wanted something I would be happy with but that wouldn’t be too elaborate (see above comments about needles). It was one of the easiest service-provider/customer conversations I’ve ever had in my life, and I knew I’d found the right tattoo artist. Money was pretty tight at that time, and so I told Jessie I would give her a call once things picked up and I could justify the expense, but I definitely wanted the tattoo. Not three weeks later I got my current job offer, paid my deposit, and asked for Ben’s thoughts on some drawings. He wanted his own tattoo, but different from mine, and on the first concept drawings Jessie hit the ball out of the park for both of us.
The designs had been chosen, I left Jenny at home, and I made my way back to the tattoo shop. I don’t know what I expected (some cubicle-style room with a curtain across it? Dingy dark corners where tattoos are applied in secret?) but the open airy room I entered with huge windows along the back wall definitely wasn’t it. While I was nervous about getting the tattoo, Jessie was great about putting me at ease. I even got to put on gloves and feel the tattoo gun (without needles) as it vibrated, and touch the needles in their sterile packaging. As I sat in the chair, Jessie went to work, describing everything she was doing, giving me fair warning if she was using a different needle (yes, they feel different), offering me a break if I needed. We talked about other things, too, like good food and dogs and work and business ownership… life, really. The time flew by, and while the tattoo application hurt a little, it really wasn’t that bad. Just over an hour after we got started, a bandage was placed over my freshly-tattooed skin, and it was done.
I remember telling Jessie at the time that I seriously don’t think anyone has ever just “gotten” communicating with a blind person so well. She admitted to feeling slightly uncertain about how much information to give, but she knew that everything she did would have to be described. One never would have guessed that I was her first blind client, though not her first with a disability (she mentioned having done piercings and tattoos for Deaf clients). Not only did I get a cool-looking tattoo, I got the seamless experience – the true luxury – of not having to explain anything at all about blindness or accommodations or humanity and disability. Remember when I wrote about a tattoo artist being like a doctor, a therapist and a graphic designer rolled into one? I hit the jackpot.
So, if you’re in Edmonton, hit up Jessie at Shambhala Tattoo. Tell her Jenny sent you… because, in a way, she did.


My tattoo of Jenny’s paw print with her name inside it