I love tattoos. I love their look and I especially love those who wear them. At 17, my high school girlfriends and I decided we’d get our first tattoo once we turned 18. Back then kanji was really in so we kept trying to come up with a good kanji symbol for our tattoo that would also represent our friendship: Love? Loyalty, Pride? Keep in mind, this was well before we understood the concept of “cultural appropriation.” As the days passed us by, then weeks and months, we all ended up growing apart. That’s high school for you. I’m still friends with each one of them, but they do not keep in touch with each other. Did we ever get the tattoo? No and that’s probably a good thing. But it did plant the seed.
Tattoos were something my family did not accept at the time. My family comes from Mexico, and though they are extremely liberal now, that came with time. My parents viewed them as vulgar and unprofessional and told us they’d disown us if we ever got one. This may sound dramatic but remember, they watch telenovelas. Then one day, my brother came home with a tattoo on his arm. It was the middle part of the Aztec calendar, TonatiuhIt, the solar deity. It was simple and elegant. My brother is the only one of us that was born in Mexico so I suppose he wanted to feel closer to the homeland by permanently marking his body with it. We all often get asked what ethnicity we are, from Iranian, to Russian to Ethiopian (I think that one was just a dude flirting with me)! It made sense that my brother wanted to have a visual marker of where he came from and hold it with pride. My parents, of course, flipped out even though he was in his late 20s. I must have been about 17 years old at the time and I thought “Oh, he’s such a rebel!” I guess that’s what happens when you’re the oldest: you pave the way for the younger ones.
As the years went by and society shifted, so did my parents’ ideas about tattoos and those who have them. Thank goodness for that because my husband has over 20 (and counting)! I like my brother’s tattoo because of what it symbolizes to him, and as a lover of tattoos, I wanted mine to mean something. But I was too scared. What if I chose the wrong one? What if it was ugly? What if I regret this? This fear of making the wrong choice wasn’t just about tattoos but in life.
I let fear control all of my decisions up until a few years ago.
I’m the youngest of 3 and the only daughter. My life was pretty cush and most of the time, I realize now, I got a lot of what I wanted. I had a car at 16, I had a late curfew (that I rarely used), I got an allowance every weekend. In return, I was the model daughter: I got good grades, I always made curfew and I checked in with my parents regularly. I didn’t drink or do drugs and the worse thing you’d catch me doing was playing on the swing set at Gabriel Park with my best friend, while the other kids met at Little Gabe to drink beer. Sure, I wanted to be a good kid, a good daughter, a good friend, a good student and what drove me to that was fear and disappointment. I worried I’d disappoint my parents with bad grades or make them look bad. I worried I’d get caught if I ever tried to drink in the park and, of course, I took this with me to college like an old stuffed animal. I allowed myself to start drinking here and there but being a good student and a good daughter and making the “right” decisions were still my number one priority.
After college, I carried it in my pocket like a lucky charm. I let it dictate my life and hold me back. I stayed in an unfulfilling relationship for 5 years because I feared no one else would ever love me. I said no to career advancing opportunities because my boyfriend flat out said “I will not go with you” or “I won’t wait for you.” I came back from an an internship in Mexico 3 months early because he missed me. I didn’t have the confidence to tell him off, to tell him that my life and my dreams mattered. Instead, I stayed here in Portland (which at the time did not have Portlandia, Grimm or Leverage to speak of) and tried my best to find editing and production jobs anywhere I could. Eventually, I found a job: not at a film studio but a music studio, close enough.
As the years ticked on and life simply did not change, I grew despondent. I was miserable. I thought things happened TO me and I felt I could not change my circumstances; I did not have a choice and these were the cards I was dealt with: marry this guy, have his babies and die. The end. That idea was so depressing, I finally mustered up some cajones and said “I’m tired of being sad”. I broke up with him and started therapy. A year later, I broke up with work and went on my pre-planned 3 week trip to Europe but didn’t come back any more clear headed than I had left. I looked at my life and at what I really wanted in it and moving away from Portland (which at the time seemed necessary to pursue a life in film) was not that, so movies and me broke up too. To this day, watching independent movies written and directed by women, still gives me a little pang in my heart of what might have been.
After coming back from Europe unemployed and single, I knew it was time to start working on me. And, of course, find a job. What I knew about those two things were: I was tired of hating myself so much and I wanted a job I was good at, also fulfilling and where I could help people. It didn’t matter to me what industry as long as it had those qualities. With the frequent therapy sessions under my belt, I began to fill my toolbox. I learned that I did have a choice and I wasn’t worthless. I know it sounds so easy and simply but it took me years to get there. On really bad days (which are very few and far between) those are my default thoughts. I’ve learned how to cope with that better now.
One of the things I learned was that I am a “Highly Sensitive Person” and that blew.my.mind. All the things I had always been so sensitive about was not just me being a brat. I don’t like crowds. I panic in a room of strangers. I tend to overstay my own social welcome, and I need a lot of alone time to recover from social events (among other things.) I also pick up on people’s moods in a room so if it’s tense, it’s hard for me to relax. Once I realized I wasn’t a weirdo, my therapists gave me some additional tools on how to live and strive this way, not how to change it or be ashamed of it. This was invaluable for me and has made my path of healing me, take a positive turn.
I was tired of being scared all the time of the decisions I made, and even the thoughts I had, but she helped me realize that even if I fell and failed, I was my own cushion and my own net. I’d pick myself up, brush myself off, and move on trying something else until what I wanted worked. I fell a lot, and I got hurt, but each time I really did learn from it.
After I finally landed a job that I hoped fulfilled my requirements (it did), I finally felt at peace with who I was and who I was becoming. I liked me and I surrounded myself with people I liked and those who supported me. Not just that, these people inspired me. I work with 80% musicians and interact with 98% musicians as they are our clientele and my co-workers. Day in and day out, they take those risks: they play shows, they tour, they put their music out there, they are vulnerable in ways I can’t imagine. How brave! I wanted to be brave like that too. And that’s when I thought I could pursue writing again. If they can do it, maybe I can too. To commemorate this newfound fearlessness, I wanted to do something special for myself so I decided that my Valentine’s gift to myself that year would be a tattoo, but what to get?
I thought long and hard for almost a year and a dicho kept popping into my head: “Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias”, A life lived in fear is a life half lived, from my all time favorite movie “Strictly Ballroom.”
That is the motto I wanted to model my life after. I know it’s no surprise, but I love words and I love sayings. My high school best friend and I used to share quotes that inspired us, we’d even mail each other cards with quotes on them so I knew, this is what I wanted but my handwriting is terrible. I kept trying to think how to get around this.
A few years back, my fears, those old creepers, began lurking in the shadows of my everyday life and I felt the familiar stiffness in my thoughts. I’d check-in from time to time with my therapist to get a tune-up and that did always help. But now, 8 months pregnant with my first son has revved up my engine! I want him to take chances, to pursue things and not be scared to fail or look dumb and the only way to do that is to lead by example and now, it’s been with me during the most important times in my life.
I said yes then and I continue to say yes now: I said yes to a job I hoped would be awesome (it is). I said yes to training for my first half marathon (I’ve run 2 so far). I said yes to seeing shows (I met my husband at one), I even said yes to him 9 months after he flaked on me. And of course, I said yes to him when he proposed.
I said yes to trying for our first baby. I said yes to a writing class that led me to a yearlong writing program and I said yes to being a contributor to this blog. I said yes. Look at all of what saying yes has brought me when I don’t let being fear rule my life.
Oh, and that tattoo’s handwriting? It’s my mom’s.