Just a tree. On my body.
I learned something about myself pretty recently that I’m sure anyone who has ever dined with me could’ve told you a decade ago… I have a really hard time making decisions. This is especially apparent when there are a lot of options to choose from – ordering from a diner menu, choosing a career path, dating in NYC in my 20’s – and I don’t know if I ever considered that it wasn’t just about a dish, or a job, or a guy. I don’t know that I ever realized it was deeper than me not being able to choose between pancakes and an omelet. I didn’t want to make these decisions – even if they seemed small – because I was scared, scared of somehow making the wrong decision.
I was sitting in the auditorium on the last day of the WDS conference about three weeks ago. Chris Guillebeau came out on stage and was giving us some information about the Closing Party that would be happening that evening. There’s always something a little crazy about the closing parties and this year, in honor of Chris getting his first tattoo earlier in the year, tattoo artists would be set up at the party to give free tattoos to those of us who were interested. They estimated about 30 people would be able to get them done and we would have to choose from the 15 or so designs that were created for WDS.
I had never really wanted a tattoo. My reasoning was always, “There’s nothing that I can think of that I would want on my body for my entire life.” The only thing I could imagine was getting a ring tattoo mainly because of my fear of losing something like an engagement ring or wedding band. But, really, it’s wasn’t something that I thought about often. However, in that moment of Chris making his announcement – with the PowerPoint slide up of the artwork options – I made a decision. My eyes shot over to the very simple tree design – and I just decided.
I went back to my apartment between the last session and the closing party. In this hour or so, the decision I made (to myself) was sinking in, and I started to feel like I was going to barf. It was the same feeling I got right before I got on the bike to ride through Portland. Just like biking through the city, getting a tattoo was on my fear list. I knew it wasn’t on there because of the pain or discomfort of actually getting it done. It was on there because it seemed like a very permanent decision and I don’t like making decisions, especially ones that seem permanent.
I arrived at the closing party solo and later than I had planned. I hadn’t told anyone that I had made this decision but as soon as I entered, I hopped on the already-long line to sign up for the free tattoos. Though I had somehow walked in with confidence in my decision to take on this fear of mine, I was starting to feel doubts creeping in as I stood in that line. I saw a few people that I had met and connected with during the conference and telling them what I was planning to do made it more real. Some cheered me on and others asked, “Are you sure you want to do that?” But I stayed on that line and eventually got to the front. I had made the cut at #29 out of 30 and was told to come back in 3 hours to check-in. I then had another few hours to ponder my decision… when I returned back, I was told that it was taking longer than expected and that they probably wouldn’t be able to get to me. I was crushed, but stubborn. I waited for almost an hour after to see if anyone ahead of me would not show, so I could have their spot. But it wasn’t going to happen, not that night.
Fast-forward to today. My greatest best friend is visiting me and there’s nobody else I would rather have holding my hand as I do this thing that seems like a big deal, but actually isn’t really a huge deal in the grand scheme of life. As a wise person once explained to me: “Yes, it’s something that seems permanent on your skin. But the tattoos I’ve gotten remind me to not take myself that seriously.” It’s ink. Just ink.
In the time between the closing party and today, I have had the time to analyze my decision and why I was potentially drawn so suddenly to this tree design. The first thing I noticed was that the shower curtain I had picked for my new apartment was “The Tree of Life.” Out of all the shower curtains on Amazon.com, I remember picking this one very definitively (which as we know, is unlike me) with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing in my mind. Though I’ve always been a fan of changing seasons, I have never owned something with a tree on it.
I then thought back to the first day of the conference. I went to a meetup session and met a gentleman by the name of Shiv who lived in United Arab Emirates. It was the first time he had traveled to the US and he was really loving the temperature in Portland since he was accustomed to super humid, over 100 degree days in the UAE. Portland felt like a literal breath of fresh air to him. He asked if it might be because of how many conifers there were in the city. I had never really thought about this. I knew one of my favorite things about Portland was the tree-line of the city and I also love it here because no matter how hot it gets (which is never that hot), it is never humid. But I never really connected these two things, until that moment.
I think the majority of people get tattoos to commemorate a moment in their lives – something important, something difficult, something they want to remember. I’ve definitely had many moments that are worth remembering in my lifetime but, in this moment and at this time when I have decided to conquer my fears and breathe fresh air into my life – the timing of this decision makes a whole lot of sense to me.
Oh and my analysis concluded with me remembering that my last name literally means “forest” in Latin. This just sealed the deal for me because you can’t have a forest without trees…
At the end of the day, what has been so fascinating about getting this “permanent” thing is how it reminded me of the reality that nothing is permanent. This reminder is also extremely important in those moments of me not wanting to make a decision for fear that it is going to be the wrong one. I actually really hope those moments cease to exist for me, at this point. I mean, I made the decision to have a tree, on my body. I think I should finally feel okay about ordering the pancakes instead of the omelet.
Some quotes for this moment:
“The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
“How will you know if it’s the right decision if you never make it?
“Who can really say how decisions are made, how emotions change, how ideas arise? We talk about inspiration; about a bolt of lightning from a clear sky, but perhaps everything is just as simple and just as infinitely complex as the processes that make a particular leaf fall at a particular moment. That point has been reached, that's all. It has to happen, and it does happen.”
~ John Ajvide Lindqvist
About the photo: my little tree.