“That’s not a piece — that’s a billboard!”

The office was sweltering. Normally, I would wear a cardigan over a sleeveless dress for the entire day, but I was on the verge of melting. Since everyone was out to lunch, no one could be scandalized by my bare arms. I walked to the supplies room and reached for the paperclips on the top shelf.

“Did ya forget to wash or somethin’?” Old Jim asked from the doorway.

I jumped, dropping a box of paperclips that scattered on the floor.  “Geez, Jim — you scared me!”

“Am I gonna hafta talk with HR about your bathing habits?”

“I bathe daily! Do I smell or something?”

“Nah, you’ve got some stuff on your shoulders.”

“Oh!” I laughed as he helped me gather the paperclips. “I have tattoos on my back.”

Really?!

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Three pieces — one on each shoulder blade and got a new one in between.”

“Of what?”

I pulled up a photo on my phone. I had the middle piece done the day before, so it was still sore. Amanda took a photo of my back after I got it done.

“Holy shit, Sam! That’s not a piece — that’s a billboard!” Old Jim’s eyes widened. “What’s your mama got to say?”

“She knows about the other two, not about this new one.”

“You kids ‘n’ your tattoos ‘n’ rebelliousness.”

“If I was being rebellious, I would’ve gotten some that would be in plain view all the time.”

“Then why’d ya get ’em done?”

“Each of them is for someone awesome in my life. The puzzle pieces heart is for my sister who is autistic (puzzle pieces are the symbol for autism). My best friend from college and I have matching ones of the bear and the tiger, which we got senior year. The one I got yesterday is for my boyfriend and me.”

“What’s the quote say? Is that French?”

“It’s a quote from The Little Prince that says, It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“At least you got meaningful ones, not some dumb shit.”

“Maybe that should be my next one — Not some dumb shit in plain typewriter font.”

“Your mama would be thrilled about that one.”

“She’s always pissed at me. I might as well do what I want.”

“Are you seriously gonna get more?”

“I’m going to fill up my whole back.”

“You’ll be a mural on the side of a building!”

“Exactly.”

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“It’s not a story. It’s your life.”

College was a strange but exhilarating time for me, as it is for many kids with strict parents.

Freshman year, I met Ames. We quickly bonded over a love of emo music and the fact that we were nerds who weren’t socially awkward. Ames’s parents own a house on the east side of Athens, where we lived from sophomore year until we graduated. We named the house Odessa, after the Texas town featured on the awesomely bad show Heroes. Even after we stopped watching Heroes, we continued to call the house Odessa.

Ames and I often joked that we weren’t just roommates, we were soul mates (and thus dubbed ourselves “rolemates.” Though, other friends also called us the Odessans.). We made midnight Kroger runs, because it was a pain to shop for groceries at any other time. We threw awesome parties. We got matching tattoos. (I have it on my right shoulder blade, while she has it on her hip. But that’s a story for another day.) We cooked and drank together. Most importantly, we helped each other through the trials and tribulations of our college lives.

Eighteen years of repression from overbearing Filipino parents has two possible effects: you’re either conditioned forever to seek your parents’ approval in everything you do or you slowly start to live for yourself. I did the latter. After leading a sheltered existence, I wanted to have crazy tales to tell.

After graduation, I worked in LA for six months. While I was in LA, we had weekly Skype video chats. As always, we texted everyday. The following January, I boomeranged back to Georgia. That summer, I visited Ames. We sat on the Odessa back porch, drinking wine and talking. So much had changed — we changed — yet our bond stayed the same. We’ve continued to have our “real talks,” when we hash out issues and offer (sometimes bluntly) honest advice.

“It’s weird, Ames.”

“What is, Sam?”

“I wanted so badly to get out of the South, but when I did, I realized it’s home. I’m glad to be back.”

“I’m glad you’re back, too.”

“Though, there were some epic stories from living in LA. I doubt anything as exciting will happen now that I’m in Georgia.”

“It’s not a story. It’s your life. Cali was just one chapter. Plus, it doesn’t matter if what you do is ‘story worthy,’ as long as you’re happy.”

Since then, I’ve mellowed. I don’t do things just to add to my archive of shenanigans. Ames and I don’t party like we did in our college years. We’re responsible adults. Still, we’ll always be rolemates — part of the family that we’ve chosen.

Five things to consider before getting a tattoo

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Monaco, Monaco. 09.09.12.

Five things to consider before getting a tattoo

1. Your threshold for pain (and if you have a fear of needles):

Anyone who tells you that getting a tattoo is quick and painless is a liar (or a masochist).

When you get a tattoo, the artist takes a giant needle gun and drills ink into your body for twenty minutes to over an hour. If you shudder at the pain from a phlebotomist collecting a blood sample, don’t bother. If the sight of needles makes you ill, don’t do it.

If you truly believe that you will rise to the occasion once facing your fear, go for it. But be aware that, typically, you can’t change your mind in the middle of a session. (Nor would you want to — an intentionally half-finished tattoo just looks sad.)

2. How you feel about permanence:

Can you commit to a decision, or are do you often tend to change your mind?

If you’re thinking, “I can just get it lasered off later if I don’t like it!” then you shouldn’t do it. Getting a tattoo removed is costly, painful, and doesn’t restore your skin to its previous, unmarked state.

A tattoo is a piece of art that will become part of you. It should be something that you would be happy to have (and look at) forever because of its significance.

3. The design & size:

Do you want a picture, text, or both? Do you want color(s) or a black outline?

Larger and more colorful designs will be more expensive. Pieces that stretch across your chest and full sleeves take several sessions. Personally, I thought that colored inking hurt less than black inking.

4. The placement:

Where do you want to get inked?

Any place where there’s bone will hurt worse than where there’s muscle. Rib and chest pieces are not for the fainthearted. Aesthetically, pieces like arm bands and knuckle tattoos only tend to work for people who look like The Rock.

If you’re applying for a job that wouldn’t hire you because your tattoo are visible and you want to get a full sleeve, reconsider your placement choice. (Or be okay with the fact that you won’t get hired for that or similar jobs.)

5. Which parlor and artist you want to go to:

This decision is crucial.

A great tattoo artist will meet with you beforehand to discuss what you want. He or she will give his or her input as to what would work best (technically and aesthetically).

Different artists within the same tattoo parlor specialize in certain types of work. Choose wisely and you’ll have an awesome piece of art for the rest of your life.

*Photo was taken by my boyfriend, who took it while we were in Monaco.

The artists’ party in an old bank vault

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On a brisk October night,
artists gathered inside
an old bank vault and
threw an art showcase party.

A jazz band played covers of
eighties pop songs while
painters on ladders filled canvases
reaching from the floor to the ceiling.

Women were inked in the
dimly lit tattoo suites
as models worked the catwalk
in masks and ball gowns.

Valiantly, people tried to be
someone — a star — and forgot
who they were before
arriving in the city of angels.

The antithesis of a basic bitch

Who would wear a t-shirt and overalls on her first day of third grade?

I did.

The girls at Greystone Elementary didn’t dress like the girls in West Des Moines. In Iowa, kids dressed comfortably. Girls wore clothes they could play in without having to worry (about boys looking up their skirts, or dirtying church clothes).

The Greystone girls wore sheer blouses with camisoles underneath. Low-rise jeans. Tiny denim shorts. Halter top dresses.

These girls were groomed to be miniature copies of their mothers (the ladies who played tennis and downed cocktails at the club for lunch). The pretty girls who were enrolled in cheernastics and dance once they could walk. The popular waifs who were dieting at age eight, so they could wear string bikinis to the pool during the summer without sucking in their bellies.

There was no way I could ingratiate myself into their crowd by being a chubby Filipino girl with crooked teeth. So I retreated into my schoolwork, reading books for fun, and filling composition notebooks with angsty scribbles. Resigned, I knew my fate was to be known as a smart girl, not a pretty girl.

Braces and a growth spurt weren’t the answer to my ugly duckling phase. Years later, I no longer yearned to look like those girls. They were society’s default version of pretty. Basic bitches. Instead, I got tattoos on my shoulder blades and a pixie cut.

Finally, I felt beautiful — which, as it turns out, is synonymous with free.