Category Archives: tattoos

delicious ambulando

how many tattoos do you have?

i kind of have 9, but 5 of them really go together to make 1. so 5 total? as of a few weeks ago, i have 11. or 10. or 6. or 7.

for a while i’ve been putting together plans for new tattoos – 2 that make up 1. on april 3rd, i brought it all to denise, my friend and tattoo artist, and she made them happen.

i’ll explain.

in middle school, my buddy robyn and i got pretty obsessed with the early days of saturday night live. we loved dan aykroyd, jane curtin, steve martin, buck henry, candice bergen, bill murray, andy kaufman.

and gilda radner. come one. i wanted to be gilda radner. she was funny and bold and adorable all at the same time.

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soon after we discovered gilda, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. i watched her continue to live her life as funny and bold and adorable. she died on may 20th, 1989. i carried her obituary in my wallet for years.

robynlee and kristelee. on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.

robynlee and kristelee. women on the verge of some delicious ambiguity.

after my own medical drama i came upon a quote from her autobiography. “now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. delicious ambiguity.” with that, gilda explained to me how to continue to live my life after it was radically changed by my brain tumor. my recovery wouldn’t have been the same without her.

so for years I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo of that phrase, “delicious ambiguity.” my tattoos are all symmetrical along my midline – balance is a big problem for me in my body, so i guess i’m trying to not make it worse. i thought about where was left for a “delicious ambiguity” tattoo. below my clavicle was a spot that appealed to me. so while i googled clavicle tattoo images, i thought about what could go on the other side.

a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)

a clavicle tattoo i liked (ignore the birds)

a few years back, i came upon the term “solvitur ambulando.” it’s latin for “it is solved by walking.” which made me think about the shift in how i think about walking. before my medical drama, i didn’t really walk. i grew up in southern california, so my instinct was to drive everywhere. i spent a lot of time in my car. then in 2009 i lost my ability to walk (and also drive). relearning how to walk took several years, a few great teachers, and a lot of practice.

dennis was my physical therapist during my stay in a phoenix nursing home. he spent a lot of time holding me up by a gait belt, making me look at myself in a mirror to convince my brain that, even though i felt like i was leaning way over to the right, i was in fact standing straight up.

the therapy folks at capri (that's dennis on the right) - they had never seen me stand up on my own

the therapy folks at capri (that’s dennis in the middle) – this was the first time they’d seen me stand up with a walker

anne was my home health physical therapist when i got back to corvallis. she taught me how to get in and out of my wheelchair, crawl around on the floor, and walk around my parents’ pool table as i held on for dear life. she got me back on my feet with a walker, but walking was hard and scary (i envisioned falling through the windows of shops as i walked by).

anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl

anne is remembering teaching me how to crawl

next was brian, the second brian to appear in my life at the exact moment when i desperately needed him.

the first brian

the first brian

brian wilson became my physical therapist after anne. i liked him right away – we laughed a lot (mainly at me) and i had a good time during my appointments. he started me walking with a cane right away – fyi, it’s terrifying to go from two-handed walking to one-handed. after i stopped seeing him in the clinic, we got together a few times for “therapy in the wild.” once we met up on a playground – he had always wanted to put me on a tire swing and turn me the opposite way from my vertigo to see if it would unwind my dizziness. it didn’t – but i was able to get on and off the swing without wiping out, so that was big progress. we played a little wallball with brian’s wife, brittany, and then he put me on a bike and ran around the playground pushing me like he was my dad.

good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride

good practice for when his new daughter, shelby, is ready to ride

to practice walking with a cane, every day i’d try to go for a walk that was a little longer than the day before – the “feeling stronger every day” plan. i remember exactly where i was when i realized that walking had gone from something that scared me to something i enjoyed. at the time, there wasn’t a lot that i enjoyed – generally, the things i did during the day were difficult and required a lot of concentration. but thanks to dennis and anne and brian, i had an outlet. walking became something that i did for fun, and when i had something on my mind. it was free, it didn’t require help, and i could do it wherever i was. i started exploring, and that was a huge part of my psychological return to the world.

b & b at t

brian and brittany at tumorfest

brian and brittany decided to move to montana, and i had dinner with them the night before they left. i was still carrying a cane but not using it – it was a marker that let people know that they needed to be careful around me, and brian really wanted me to stop. it was raining that evening, and since my left arm is too wonky to hold an umbrella, i had a choice to make – cane or umbrella. when i walked through the restaurant door, brian noticed right away that i didn’t have my cane, and he made a big deal about it. he realized that i had done a scary thing – his faith in me was the reason that i kept trying new things, kept trying to get rid of things that restricted me. he was the first friend i made who hadn’t known me before my medical drama, which made his faith in me matter even more – he was basing that faith in who i was after, which made me have more faith in myself. i really can’t describe how important he has been in my life.

so instead of trying to describe it, i asked him to write “solvitur ambulando” for my tattoo. it was an opportunity to take my unending gratitude and make it visible.

brian and robyn's drafts for my tattoo

brian and robyn’s drafts for my tattoo

when my buddy emily and i went to the bay area a few years back, i bought lovely california poppies letter-pressed notecards. i love my home state’s flower, and when i thought about these clavicle tattoos, i envisioned the poppies on one side. robyn’s side, since we grew up in california.

letterheadfor the other side, i wanted sweet peas (my favorite flower) in a similar craftsman style. i decided to put brian & the sweet peas under my left clavicle because my left side is the wonky one from my stroke.

i sent denise this drawing as inspiration

i sent denise this drawing as inspiration

i gave some thought to the color of the flowers, and since i love the orange of the poppies, i wanted the sweet peas to also be bright and vivid. i found this picture and knew that it was what i wanted the sweet peas to look like.

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i brought all of these ingredients to denise and she combined them and improved them. getting the tattoos took a few hours, but mainly because we were chatting a lot. denise has been and continues to be a big player in my recovery. my tattoos are lovely – exactly what i wanted but so much more beautiful than that. they’re easily concealed, but they also reveal themselves differently depending on the neckline of the shirt i’m wearing. the way denise worked the words in is exquisite (robyn’s response).

morning after

this evening denise is going to touch up some leaves and darken the poppies.

my new tattoos are funny and bold and adorable. and i’m grateful for the people who are all woven together in them.

 

 

 

 

 

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forty things from my fortieth summer

1. my new car – my mom got herself a new car, and i got her hand-me-down. not bad, eh? closing the back has been reminding me of something, like something i did in another life. the other day i finally realized that it’s what i imagine spinning the wheel on the price is right is like. so far i’ve successfully resisted the impulse to stand next to it after it’s closed and jump up and down while clapping and saying, “come on, one dollar!”

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2. wilburys deconstructed – my love of driving around to tom petty music and of this video inspired me to make a great mix. my favorite stuff by the wilburys in their other incarnations. it’s pretty damn good.

3. the leoncavallo family of augusta, georgia – seriously. three quality individuals.

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in this photo, i’m playing the role of doug leoncavallo.

4. successful ice cream stops – in portland ME i wandered into a little ice cream shop and one of the customers said to me (in a friendly way), “have you been in here before?” i said that i hadn’t and asked her to tell me what to get. she said banana cream pie ice cream, something i would never have chosen. it was delicious. then i had it again in downtown durham. in augusta, we discovered an amazing ice cream store, bruster’s – so many flavors and the counterfolk were begging us to have samples. i don’t ever remember what kind i ended up getting – i just remember that it was crazy-good.

5. unconditional positive regard – thanks to zari and cheryl strayed, i did some thinking about who has UPR for me and vice versa. here’s one example:

upr

6. the bachelorette – oh man it was a good season. sweet sweet des.

7. PRI – i completed my goal of driving to the pizza research institute in eugene.

8. pistachios on pizza – i was introduced to this in durham, NC, not at PRI. it’s crazy how delicious they make your pizza.

9. portland, maine – the country is bookended by cool cities named portland

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this is outside a pub in portland, maine.

10. a drag queen softball game – running in stripper heels for charity (them, not me)

11. dr. pepper – having a car means that i can transport a 12-pack from the store to my apartment. a can of it is like dessert for my afternoon.

12. the china delight lounge – this whole “where dreams go to die” thing? i’m not seeing it.

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13. cards against humanity – another thing that came my way thanks to zari. i got to hear many wildly inappropriate sentences read aloud this summer. the china delight lounge is the perfect place to play.

14. blondies – why am i just now finding out about these?

15. capers – no, not the food. the other kind. i had two going for my buddy robyn’s 40th birthday last month. here she is finding out about the first one:

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16. former neighbors

back in our spot

me and olivia back in our spot. i miss having her and her family around.

17. other people’s babies

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olivia, jeff, nico, and liz

18. swedish fish

19. larrupin & ramone’s coffee – i didn’t make it to humboldt county this summer, but i did get a few tastes of it thanks to susan and janet.

20. amtrak – i did a lot of amtrak traveling on the east coast this summer. and a few trips up to portland and back.

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1) jaqui is not asleep
2) that food isn’t all emily’s

21. the city of baltimore – zari & kristin – i get it. what a cool city.

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gin and tonics on zari’s roof

22. mail – i’m now penpals with a former student who is in prison in california. not exactly a dream of mine, but it’s good to hear from him – i can still see the 4th grader he was. a good opportunity to practice unconditional positive regard.

23. license plates – when i was with the carter family in boston, they started playing the license plate game. now i notice them, too. i haven’t spotted a massachusetts plate yet.

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me with the oldest carter daughter, james. sitting on some famous writer’s grave – i don’t remember which one. james is much more interesting.

24. evening strolls – i’m bringing them back.

25. grilled pimento cheese sandwiches – so tasty. i ate this one in aiken, south carolina with kristin and henry. it’s the reason that south carolina is filled in on my tattoo.

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26. my 40th birthday tattoo

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my first post-40 trip was to visit robyn and her husband phil in seattle. she asked to pick washington’s color. it’s green.

27. assertive pedestrian – when i’m out walking, i’m doing my part to assert my rights as a pedestrian. if you’re stopped at a stop sign and you make eye contact with me on the curb, i’m going to cross the street in front of you. if you go anyway, even though you see me and i have the right of way, i’m going to give you a mean look. i can’t give you the bird like i’d like to, because my parents would find out. but you’d better believe that i’m giving it to you in my mind.

28. generous driving – i’ve learned a lot about driving from the time i spend walking, and i try to practice generous driving. like giving pedestrians the right of way, waving the other guy through the intersection when it’s a tie, and stopping before the crosswalk. revolutionary, i know.

29. lifesavers – i had totally forgotten about them until i started spending time in various airports this summer. so tasty, and people are delighted to be offered one. now that i’m mature i like pineapple the best.

30. shorty shopping carts

31. monroefest – i got to spend a good chunk of the bounty of benton county hanging out at hard times distillery in monroe. and what do i have to show for it? good times and a bottle of moonshine.

32. a tumor piñata – sandy helped me finish a tumor piñata for tumorfest. i hope a few more folks make one next year.

tumor pinata

33. listen – my word for year five

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34. east coast small-town 4th of july parades – muskets! and creepy local traditions! can i do this every year?

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35. oblation – jaqui took me to this awesome shop in portland. i managed to keep my spending from hitting triple-digits. but it wasn’t easy.

36. second street – my street is so damn great. i’m glad to go out on adventures, and glad when i’m back on my street.

37. balsamic blueberry crisp – possibly the tastiest thing i baked all summer.

38. butterscotch – it tastes good! i had no idea.

39. fry-day – last month macey and i made our fry-day dream a reality, and we spent a day deep-frying candy bars. in round one we fried half of our assortment (frozen – there’s a tip for you) with one batter recipe. some were amazing and some were disgusting (circus peanuts? whose idea was that?). round two we fried the other half in funnel cake batter. for round three we did an all-star round of our favorites in our favorite batter (funnel cake of course). i thought that the best were toblerone, reese’s peanut butter cups, and rolos. macey liked all of those, but hershey’s cookies and cream bars were her number one. you should probably invite us to your halloween party – we’ll bring good treats and we spent time planning our costumes for this year.

rdj

macey’s costume has to do with her current celebrity obsession,
robert downey jr.

40. tumorfest – such a good way to end to year 4 and start year 5. i can’t describe how much tumorfest means to me.

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seis de mayo

it was my 40th birthday last month. on the seis de mayo.

a moment before this picture was taken an elderly woman in line behind me said, "smile big, dearie!"

proof

i have been looking forward to turning forty – it seems like a solid age to be. i’ve worked pretty damn hard to make it here, and not everybody is as fortunate as i am. so i’ve been feeling ready to claim a new decade.

i’ve known for a while that i wanted to mark turning forty with a tattoo, and my ideas went through many stages. i wanted to acknowledge my connections to california and oregon. i briefly thought about getting wrist tattoos of their two flags, but oregon’s flag is hideous.

the scale is wrong, the colors are wrong. as much as i love oregon, i do not want this on my body, even temporarily.

the scale is wrong, the colors are wrong. as much as i love oregon, i do not want this on my body, even temporarily.

my neighbor liz and i have talked about reclaiming the trampstamp as a feminist statement. when the wrist tattoo idea was rejected, i started thinking about a trampstamp – all of my tattoos are balanced on my body, and my lower back is the place i have left (since a chest tattoo just isn’t my style) to keep things symmetrical. i thought about getting outlines of oregon and california, but they don’t go in the right direction for that spot. then i started thinking, “what would charles kuralt do?”

kuralty bliss

charles kuralt reminded me of a few things. i thought about how much i enjoyed being in north carolina last spring, it was so different than where i live, and i feel like a better citizen for having spent time there. it occurred to me that i have never really dreamed about going to london or paris or tokyo – i dream about going to detroit. i would love to cruise around the back roads of america in an RV and see the country and talk to regular folks, like charles kuralt did. through all of this thinking, my tattoo idea came to me. i knew right away that it was the perfect thing.

while i was working this out, my buddy zari and i were talking about getting tattooed together on my birthday; our friend molly also wanted to go with us. then z went and moved to baltimore, and my tattoo hopes were dashed. the three of us really needed to do it together, so i thought of the perfect bribe to get zari to come back to oregon for “drink & ink,” as molly christened it.

i have been friends with zari since she was 3, and i met molly a few years later.

i have been friends with zari since she was 3. she introduced me to molly a few years later.

my bribe worked, and zari got plane tickets to come back to oregon. the plan was set.

molly, kriste, zari - at z's college graduation.

molly, kriste, zari – at z’s college graduation.

i was getting oregon’s state motto – “she flies with her own wings” – as part of my tattoo. a few weeks before my birthday, molly asked if it would be ok with me if she also got the motto. tattoo twinsies?! of course. then zari wanted it in her tattoo, which seemed so damn right.

we spent the afternoon of my birthday with denise, who has tattooed me a few times before. i went first, then zari, then molly.

zari's tattoo

zari’s tattoo

zari got the bear from the california flag, along with the oregon state motto, representing her life on the west coast. the top part of the motto is in molly’s writing, and i wrote the bottom part. we had a long philosophical discussion about who should write which part. i think it looks so damn cool, and it’s a huge deal to me that zari is walking around baltimore with my writing on her thigh.

molly and denise, talking tattoos.

molly and denise, talking tattoos.

molly's tattoo

molly’s tattoo

molly got a hummingbird on the inside of her arm. the motto is in her sister’s handwriting.

here comes mine.

think RV

think RV

this tattoo is a mindfulness piece, to make me think about how i spend my forties. if you look closely, you’ll see that oregon is colored in, because on the first day of my forties that’s where i was. i’m going to fill in every state i visit between may 6, 2013 and may 5, 2023. my grandpa lives in oklahoma, and i should go visit him. ditto for my cousin’s dad in mississippi. my mom’s family is from michigan, and i’ve never been there. washington is the first state i’ve been to since my birthday – i took a quick train trip up there to visit robyn. since she was first, she wanted to pick washington’s color, and she chose green. there’s math involved in coloring in a map – the US can be done in four colors, so i know which color oklahoma should be by the time i get there.

the bribe was that if zari came back for my birthday, she would be the one to write the motto. molly drew the compass rose, based on one that was in the floor of a hotel where robyn and i stayed last summer. the envelope in the middle came from molly’s realization that our relationship as adults has been strengthened by the letters we write to each other.

so happy to see molly when she got back from many months in brazil last year.

so happy to see molly when she got back from many months in brazil last year.

while i was getting tattooed, we started trying to name state capitals. z & m started researching state mottos on their phones. denise was getting into the whole US geography thing, too. i’m pretty sure that it was one of the nerdiest tattoo sessions ever.

i feel like i started this decade in a pretty rad way. it was an honor that these fine women were there with me. i really can’t put into words how i feel about them, so here’s a picture that captures it:

the last time the three of us were together - drinking cocktails at terminus last year.

drinking cocktails at terminus last year.

permanent accessories

i was about 18 when i decided that i wanted a tattoo from lafcadio, my favorite shel silverstein book.

as a kid i made my parents read lafcadio to me over and over. eventually i had it memorized and could “read” it myself. the tone and content of the book shaped me as a person. every school year it always the first book i read out loud to my class. i think that my tolerance for the unknown comes from this book. and a good chunk of my sense of humor.

when i turned 36, i realized that 36 is double-18, and that half my life was long enough to wait for a tattoo. i still wanted the same drawing from the book in the same spot on my back – seemed like a safe bet. my grandma florence gave me some money for my birthday. i decided to use it to get my lafcadio tattoo.

i was going to be in berkeley in june. my friend sandy lived in the east bay and he suggested a tattoo spot – sacred rose. i remember that after i got it i changed my facebook status to “i am not the same.”

thanks for the rad tattoo, grandma florence!

when i got back from my trip to the east bay, my mom greeted me with enthusiasm. and with a pile of information about tattoo parlors in corvallis. back when i was 18, she had responded to my desire to get a tattoo with an admission of her own desire to get one. she had a good story about what she wanted to get – her rattlesnake pendant on her ankle. i wanted to get the pocket watch from to kill a mockingbird, and we made plans to get them together on her 59th birthday that coming september.

but plans change. soon after, i was diagnosed with a brain tumor. my mom spent part of her 59th birthday visiting me in a nursing home.

after my medical drama i started to feel a strong need to have a more visible scar. my surgery scars aren’t easy to see, and i wanted something like a badge to mark what i’d been through and survived. i decided that i needed to get a tattoo of a phoenix, because the symbolism was too good to pass up. i certainly felt like a phoenix, and i wanted to represent all of the folks who’d been a part of my surgery and recovery. it turned out that i was going to be in hawaii on the 1-year anniversary of my surgery. i found a tattoo parlor in lahaina and met with rob there. i explained it all to him and he drew up some sketches. i wanted it to be round because i knew that i also wanted to get that pocket watch on my other calf and i wanted them to balance. rob’s sketches were great, so i picked one and walked myself over to his shop (maui atomic tattoo) on august 7, 2010. i wanted it on my left leg because that’s the weak side from my stroke.

that wasn’t the only tattoo i got that day. the other was inspired by my friend robyn. in a line down her calf she’s collecting small tattoos symbolizing important events in her life. i knew that i’d be collecting theme words and i wanted to do something special with them. robyn’s example gave me the idea to collect my theme words down my back. not wanting to miss the opportunity to customize things, i decided that i’d ask someone who was really involved in my theme word to write it for me and i’d get it tattooed on my back going down my spine. i asked emily to write “new” for me. she was a major part of my recovery and really helped me stay positive that first year.

my mom and i made plans to get tattooed together the day before she turned 60. we went to high priestess in corvallis – a friend had much praise to denise there. mom went first, and she agreed with my assessment that it hurts enough so you know you’re getting a tattoo. this time i wondered what it would feel like – i was getting the pocket watch on my right calf, and as a complication from the surgeries i have no temperature sensation on that side. the answer was that i could feel the needle vibrating but i didn’t feel any pain. since it didn’t hurt, denise zipped through my tattoo in record time.

i knew that i wanted to include a quote from to kill a mockingbird as part of my tattoo. when i was in the hospital, my mom read it to me and i had her mark lines that really spoke to me, so that i could choose one for my tattoo. the one that stood out the most was “one does not love breathing.” that part – when scout is afraid that she won’t be allowed to read with her dad anymore because her teacher doesn’t like that she already knows how to read – has always meant a lot to me. but that phrase has new meaning, because now i really do love breathing. i asked my dad to write it out for me – he’s always had really distinctive printing – and he reluctantly agreed. i had denise point the hands at the 7 and the 1 – my parents’ wedding anniversary is july 1st.

i love my pocket watch tattoo. i like it when people stop me and say, “can i read your tattoo?” but after spending some time with it, i decided that there was too much open space in the middle of it. my solution was to get denise to add the mockingbird from the cover of the paperback edition. so on the 2-year anniversary denise did just that.

august 7, 2011 was a busy day for tattoos in my family. my mom got a hibiscus on her other ankle – this had been her plan to represent the two sides of her personality with balanced tattoos.

i also got my word for year two – gratitude. i asked my friend vickie to write it – she’s been in my life for a decade now and has a lot to do with that word. a bonus is that she has lovely cursive.

i’ll crunch some numbers. i’ve been tattooed in 3 states and have 7 words tattooed on me in 3 people’s writing. 2 book tattoos. 2 bird tattoos. 1 gun tattoo.

in 2011 i’ll add another tattoo to my collection – “experience” – and the jury’s still out on who will write it. i don’t know how long i’ll collect theme words on my back. i think i’ll know when i’m finished.

i really love my tattoos. i feel like there are good stories about each of them – where i got them, who i was with, what they represent, their location on my body. now i find myself drawn to people who have tattoos. i want to hear the stories behind them.