Like many Gen-Xers,* in addition to my semi-meaningless faux-tribal tramp stamp and a culturally misappropriated Chinese character, I sport a dragon tattoo.
It stretches across 2/3 of my midriff, is black with red flames, was selected from a book of flash, and is completely awesome. Even buried under the 17 layers of clothes necessitated by the Bay Area summer fog, I am happier just knowing it is there.
My dragon tattoo is a part of me, in more than the literal “ink on skin” sense. My dragon is an external sign of my inner being, the strength of my resolve and the fire of my passions on display. Rather than wearing my heart on my sleeve, I wear my attitude on my belly.
I acquired my dragon, whimsically named Winifred, in a tattoo parlor in San Francisco's Castro District in February 2003,** to celebrate my 4th wedding anniversary. Or, at least, that was what I thought at the time.
Within a year, I began to develop the symptoms of what would finally be diagnosed as Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis and a genetic disease.*** These symptoms, oddly enough, were largely concentrated in the vicinity of my tattoo. Odd, at least to me, because I had previously envisioned that particular design on my shoulder and had decided on the ultimate placement only days before my appointment.
My dragon was my dancing, cheerful companion during the weekly self-injections of an increasingly ineffective wonder drug. Though I had to inject the medicine into my belly, I never pierced my dragon with the needle. It was less that I was concerned about ruining the design than out of a sense of respect/affection. Eventually, in spite of the injections, the pain became debilitating.
When a benign tumor – a major contributing factor to my discomfort – eventually was discovered, it was located directly beneath my dragon's feet, as is the scar I now bear. By the doctor's estimation, I'd had the tumor about 10 years. The surgery to remove it was performed just days before my 10th wedding anniversary. Since then, the symptoms of my arthritis have been greatly reduced and more easily managed, affording me the health and energy to once again pursue my passions.
I realize it may sound like the too-trite end to some early Stephen King short story, but I firmly believe the choice and placement of that particular symbol were expressions of an inner knowledge not yet recognized by my everyday consciousness. I believe it was a cry for help – an expression of the growing physical concern and the imminent need for the power, strength and good fortune Chinese dragons have traditionally symbolized.
Whether it was prescience or ultimately just a coincidence, my dragon tattoo has become a daily reminder that I have gifts and limitations, motivations and information of which my “rational” mind may not even be aware. It is an external sign that I am more than who and what I “think” I am.
Serpent's fire belly
Cosmic wings on my back
Fortune at my shoulder
I chase the wind,
Sail the sea, ride the sky,
Fall eternally, never crashing
I am eternal.
I am carbon, elemental.
I am more than I can know.
Today's exercise: Expose your inner self... to yourself.
Next: Maybe I'll get all philosophic-like about my navel ring...
*The secret to selling anything to Generation X: Lead us to believe that we see some aspect of ourselves in whatever it is you're selling. It was not an accident that the hard cover of the final Stieg Larsson book is self-reflecting shiny silver. It was, in fact, not even subtle. (And, yes, I bought it... I just looked so darned pretty...)
**Predating the “Lisbeth” books, thankyouverymuch. (Also, I got my Kawasaki in 2001, FWIW.)
***No pity requested, required, or accepted. I would, however, prefer it were a little easier to spell.