The New Leaf #30
Are tattoos ever interesting to anyone but their owner? As I've been healing some new ink this past month, I've been wavering back and forth on this. Back when I met my partner Luke he had two tattoos, one on each shoulder, complementing each other - he's an engineer, and these are the two building blocks of circuitry. They are excellent tattoos: cleanly executed, considered but simple in their meaning, timeless. When it comes to my own motley collection I'm afraid I cannot say the same, as my 18-20 pieces (depending on how you count) stretch across 23 years and range from doodles to works of art. They all have dreamy / wanky meanings like "the time I spent aimlessly floating through my life" and "a turning point!", meaningless to anyone but me. Clearly, I love them all.
Tattoos are fundamentally about physical autonomy - about story and change. I think of them as a way to capture a moment in time to take it with you, keeping hold of the thread. Maybe it's a bit like when you stand in front of a big map in a public place, unable to resist reaching out to point out your position. The fact that the spot on the map gets physically worn down over time shows we all feel a need to find ourselves in space, and assert, here I am.
Last year's branch across my shoulder (The London Plane! The most common tree in London!) seems to have tipped me over from "a person who has some tattoos" and into the category of "a tattooed person". The difference is in how people look at me in the street when I've got my arms and legs out - I can feel the quiet increase in attention. I'm not really used to being noticed, and I don't really know how I feel about this. But one definite upside of having 20 tattoos instead of a few is that people's questions are more general now. Instead of having to delve into my state of mind at 26 when I got that feather, I can just say that I've been alive for a while and things have kept happening, and I've added them to my map, you know, for my own personal wayfinding.
My most recent tattoo felt like meditation, not because of any high-minded intent on my part but because the placement required me to lie in such a way that it was impossible to read. I had no choice but to lie still for 2.5 hours, with nothing to distract me beyond the music playing and the wall in front of me. All I could do was feel the tattoo artist pushing the ink into my arm - I was told handpoking would be less painful, but if anything it was the opposite. Unlike regular tattoos, where the consistency of the machine-powered needle makes the pain blur into something you can adjust to, there was no getting used to a million tiny separate stabs. The artist delivered each of them with a determined energy that I could feel as it travelled from his arm to mine. There was nothing I could do but wait, feel it, and breathe. That tattoo is a homage to my grandparents and to taking my heritage and making it my own, but now, the experience of getting it is part of the story too, and so often with tattoos, the story is the best part.
The coolest tattooed person is clearly the one who makes no mention of their tattoos. But I'm not that interested in being cool, so here I am, talking about it - I don't think pretending not to care about things is anything to aspire to. And if you want to tell me about it, I'd love to hear about your tattoo.
Things I've been writing lately.
The Norwegian call to friluftsliv, into nature where the air is fresh - Well + Good
Welcome to my treatise on friluftsliv, the Norwegian for “free air life” but really, friluftsliv is a way of life that borders on a belief system. The start of this story was a conversation with my partner which led to the realisation that no Norwegian can tell you why fresh air is good for you, but you bet your life they will double down if you challenge them on it - some things just ARE. (And yes, I’m the kid in the picture, I grew up hella wholesome.)
Is this the shape of things to come for Hackney Wick? - The Wick
Spaces are opening up in new and old buildings around Hackney Wick – some with longterm security, others as meanwhile use. After a decade of aggressive gentrification, is this the roadmap to secure the area’s creative future? I reported on the current situation in Hackney Wick for The Wick local paper - the spring issue is out how.
Things I've been enjoying lately.
Fans of the exceptional Netflix series "Russian Doll" will want to check out Natasha Lyonne's new series Poker Face - a true delight! At the moment the show is only on some American streaming service called Peacock, but those of you who grew up when the internet was young will find a way, I believe in you.
I made this miso aubergine dish with tofu from Rukmini Iyer for people so unused to vegan food they had to have tofu explained to them, and it was a hit! Regarding the tofu, I'd recommending tearing it into chunks and tossing it in the marinade - if you don't have miso it works with a soy-tahini mix too too.
Lessons from a life on the move, from Jami Attenberg: “I had sought permission my entire life to make choices; I had been well-behaved and studious as a youth, jumped through all the required hoops – academic, extracurricular and otherwise. But freedom was to be explored and exploited, I had now decided. These travels taught me that moving around wherever I liked was possible. And that I was always at home as long as I had a few necessary items: a journal, some blue jeans, a few ducats and, most of all, a sharp mind.” [The Guardian]
For more article recommendations, here's this month's Reading List, Spring Sap double edition.
Thanks for reading The New Leaf! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.