No one mistakes my tattoo for a hat
If I could have gotten my tattoo when I was a kid, I wouldn't have needed to show the elephant inside the boa constrictor's stomach.
If I could have gotten my tattoo when I was a kid, I wouldn't have needed to show the elephant within the stomach of a boa constrictor. That's not how the young artist in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince originally intended to present his drawing.
No. He only wanted to show the exterior of the snake, its body contorted to fit the shape of the elephant swallowed whole.
But all the grown-ups mistook the child's drawing for a hat. To help grown-ups better understand what he was trying to do, he made a second drawing to show the inside of the snake—this way everyone could clearly see the elephant.
Sometimes my tattoo requires an explanation, but most people who have read Le Petit Prince know where the elephant inside of a boa constrictor comes from. They never ask me, though, why I didn't use the young artist's first drawing as the model for my tattoo. Perhaps because we've all grown into "reasonable" people who are used to having things explained to us.
I don't remember when I stopped understanding things. How old would I have been? At what age do we stop seeing the elephant inside of the boa constrictor? It must happen like tiny pin pricks and not all at once.
The young artist in the story decides to abandon his craft at the age of 6, because he doesn't think he'll be able to create what he wants to create, the way he wants to create it.
As someone who has always wanted to write (but also be able to eat and live), I can understand this impulse to give up art entirely. The grown-up world is often full of strange compromises and sacrifices you have to make. The writing I do to make money doesn't always align with the writing I do to survive.
Perhaps this is dumb: the idea that true art can't make money, that creative people need to have hustles. An idea that has existed far too long—the people who make art don't have money, but the people who consume it do.
Growing up comes with what feels like loss—it's nostalgia for a self who could see the elephant inside of the boa constrictor. But it also comes with a new way of seeing. The young artist in Le Petit Prince is upset that grown-ups can't see what he wants them to see, but that's the thing about art: You can't control how people will interpret or perceive what you put out in the world.
Sometimes, people won't see the elephant inside of the boa constrictor; they'll just see a hat. If you really want people to see the elephant, then, yes, you'll need to show them the elephant. That's just how growing up works. That's how art works.
I chose the last drawing the young artist in The Little Prince ever created for my tattoo. Here's hoping that I always remember the child I once was, and that I never have to explain what my tattoo means to grown-ups.