My naked arm was once enslaved by my obscene loyalty to the Corporate World of Conformity. Now freed, the open-air sleeve on my left arm tells my story of discovery and truth. This was the first uprising by my soul to express its true self. It came in the form of a small Buddhist mantra in Sanskrit (Om Mani Padme Hum) tattooed on the inside of my wrist. I had previously subscribed to the false thinking that successful corporate women shouldn’t have visible tattoos, so I strategically placed that tattoo where it could easily be covered by my watch. It’s constant message was compassion; specifically, compassion for myself. Clearly, I was still conforming, but the freedom I felt in putting ink on my wrist was an opening, like a tear in a garbage bag, no matter what I might try to do to stop it, it continued to tear and let its contents spill out. Shortly after, I would experience my body’s discomfort in associating with this outer self that was no longer able to contain my insides - and it would manifest itself as Multiple Sclerosis and then Melanoma. I believe that the body expresses anger and sadness in varying ways, sometimes in the form of dis-ease. Once I started this opening, my soul’s expression was no longer willing to be contained.
I partially listened. I decided to live life differently. I wanted to live with purpose and embody the creativity I had always possessed. I reflected on my first tattoo. The minute I turned eighteen I painted my hip with a symbol of the culture that my heart belonged to - that of the Native American tribes of North Carolina, a “basic girl” tattoo- a dreamcatcher. Yet this symbol was far more than basic to me. It was an expression of my understanding of the power of dreams and their effect on my daily life. It was an homage to the culture I was blessed to experience at local Pow-wows in the fall of each impressionable year of my adolescent life. That ink was different from my open-air sleeve, it was hidden - much like mySelf, still afraid to step into the light of who I truly was.
My Soul’s light shined brightly again, this time in the form of the dis-ease I was to be diagnosed with. Even though it may have appeared to be the darkest time of my life, it touched me too painfully, like the sun on my delicate skin well into a fresh sunburn, refusing to go unnoticed. It was both painful and illuminating at the same time. So I was determined to live more purposefully and discover how to bring my light to the world and illuminate the places where people couldn’t see in the dark.
Not only did I want to escape my corporate persona, but I also wanted to paint my creative expression on my body for the whole world to see. I wanted it to be so obvious that I could no longer hide who I was becoming. I wanted a life I didn’t need to take a vacation from, and I felt that was what my body was telling me to do by experiencing this dis-ease referred to as MS.
SLOW DOWN! STOP BEING EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE! BE PRESENT! BE GRATEFUL! STAY COOL! STAY CALM!
Just like a bad relationship that I wasn’t ready to escape, I stayed a little longer at that giant corporate giant prison than I should have. I was shackled by the “golden handcuffs,” as I like to call it. Things like a generous retention bonus were ways they I kept my soul incarcerated. Yet she would not conform.
The next reminder to WAKE UP and GET THE FUCK OUT came in the form of melanoma, which I discovered by chance when I took my daughter to the dermatologist to check a patch on her head. I had a pin-head sized mole on my arm that caught the nurse’s attention.Three days later, as I stood in the fourth floor of that corporate-giant building, I got a call. “We’re going to need you to come in tomorrow to remove that”. “How about next Monday?” I asked. “I have A LOT of work to do.” “Uhm, I don’t think you understand, ma’am. This is skin cancer and we need to remove as much from that area as possible ASAP.” I glanced over at my coworker (who would eventually be the final nudge to my corporate upheaval months later) and started to tear up. “Wait,” I thought, “I can’t CRY at work, I’m already one of the few females AND Black software developers in the company!” I can’t CRY!!!” But it was too late. The bag was already torn, and the contents continued to spill out.
I learned that the aforementioned coworker was making way more money than I, even though I was his manager. He was clearly employed by the energy of my burgeoning spirit, and gave me the final motivation to leave. The powers that be were not pleased, but my soul was beaming. I broke free from that corporate job and within six months, I was working from home. I had space and time to exercise, meditate, do yoga, and take naps whenever necessary.
Finding a tattoo artist is no easy task, much like finding a trusted hairstylist. It takes time to cultivate this relationship, to get to know one another. I wanted that connection - the one that would produce the beautiful story on my naked arm. I tracked down a local artist on Instagram and followed him for a while, and something in his work drew me in. I decided to visit him in person on my birthday in hopes of securing some ink on my special day. My newfound artist friend and soon-to-be new tattoo artist Linton was just as keen on nurturing our relationship as a slow, developing courtship. So in our 90 minutes of facetime on that first consultation, he probed deeply into what it was my soul really wanted him to create on my arm. He wasn’t trying to decorate me with HIS art, he was querying my soul for what art it called him to create. We talked about many topics, from my interest in studying Buddhism to my love of 90s music. Happily, I discovered we were quite close in age and cultural interests. The planning phase made it obvious this would be a process in patience, yet I was itching for SOMETHING to permanently decorate me on that same day. I produced a picture from Pinterest of a Unalome, a Buddhist symbol that represents each individual's transcendence in this planet. I pointed to the space between my breasts. “Can we put this here? I know we just met, but I absolutely HAVE to leave here with SOME INK!” We both blushed a bit because our newfound connection was spiritual, not physical and I was certain it wasn’t the first time he had fulfilled such a request. (In hindsight I realized having a bikini top with me would have been a really great idea to retain my modesty!)
Linton kindly provided me with a hospital gown and twenty minutes later, I emerged with my new birthday ink and a plan for my open-air sleeve. My Unalome is unique, with a heart, keyhole, and a key attached to the path, to represent “music is the key to my heart and soul”.
In art school, I had a vision of a duality I wanted to be tattooed somewhere on my body. This duality was represented with two opposing forces - day and night, sun and moon, wrapped around each other - one not existing without the other. I never showed Linton my drawing, yet he somehow managed to extract it from my essence and I was delighted when he presented it as our first chapter of my naked arm ink story. His version embellished my original design with a beautiful mandala which I immediately adored.
We were both delighted - me with his amazing channeled vision of my soul, and he with my ability to “sit well”, as tattoo artists refer to it. The two hours went by faster than a great date, with Linton playing Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, and other of our favorites and reminiscing about cars and life in the 90s. I really feel like I found a soul brother.
People say getting ink is addictive and that’s one belief I can personally validate. This piece was now my sixth, largest, and most visible tattoo to date and I was hungry for more. I was blissfully free from my confines and my soul's expression was blossoming on my naked arm.
The next few pieces began to almost create themselves through our interactions and discussions. As more of my naked skin became penetrated with those small rapid needles, I felt more free, more alive than ever. We visited “Front Street”, the area on my arm where there was no hiding anymore. A lotus-butterfly creation parked itself nicely on my outer wrist and there was no turning back.
I searched my brain for the places and things that brought me joy. I wanted them to parade around on my arm, too. So we somehow managed to weave the coordinates to the Bahia Honda Park (somewhere out in the water in front of the old mangled bridge) into the design in a contiguous manner. We found a place for my NIN logo that has yet to be immediately recognized. Did I want a lacy, off-the-shoulder design? Linton ensured and his art delivered, staying consistent with the other pieces. Gotta fit in my love for Marvel! Guess what, we found a way!
The Phoenix and the Peacock Feather
All this beautiful work was neatly placed on my arm and yet one area stood out. A six-inch scar from the melanoma created a puffy ridge along the inside of my bicep. Clearly I was unafraid of the pain of being tattooed, but this area frightened me. Not because of the potential pain, but because of the significance of that scar. Merely covering it up was not an option. This piece had to represent something remarkable. I wracked my brain for quite some time until I realized that the theme of rebirth was the ideal symbol for this expression.
I chose the Phoenix for obvious reasons and I think I may have partially insulted Linton when I showed him the bold, graphic tribal-style image from a Google search. It was not the style of any of the artwork on my arm and he was determined to produce something that was more like, well, ME. And so he did. By this time I had demonstrated the consistent ability to “sit well” and this would be a test of my endurance. Ironic how this was the most painful piece, given all that it represented to me and my rebirth. I had decided to burn my corporate persona and was in the glorious process of rising from the ashes!
All this change was waking me up. My people-pleasing persona seemed to be attached to my corporate persona and things that I used to tolerate were no longer acceptable. So when my neighbor of seven years and her family became unbearable to live next to, I followed my soul and looked for a new home. My soul was clearly in the driver’s seat now, getting guidance from my body like a GPS. One day I arranged to view 10 different properties with my realtor. As we were leaving the first home (which was of course I thought was perfect but it was the FIRST), a peacock jumped on the roof of the house. Out loud I asked, “Peacock, is this the house I should buy?” already knowing the answer. Several months later after closing on the house and moving in I would learn there is a group of wild peacocks that live freely in this neighborhood and I am fascinated by their beauty and brilliantly obnoxious sound.
On SpiritAnimal.info, Elena Harris mentions that “when the peacock struts gracefully into your life you may be entering a time of rebirth.” My arm had one last spot on the triceps and I knew what Linton and I would be creating next. This time I arrived with no picture, just a story - and he whipped up a beautiful freehand peacock feather in a matter of minutes. As synchronicity would have it, he knew exactly the area where I bought my new house, as that was once his childhood neighborhood.
At first, I was starkly aware of my story-inked arm, watching the reaction of others in public. I was a newborn, kicking and screaming. Now it is a part of me, the real me, my truest non-conforming self. And I am at peace. Namaste.