We (th)Ink You’re Important examines a recent project by author Shelley Jackson, which combines storytelling and tattoos, and explores its implications on finding meaning within our own lives.
Growing up in my house, it was commonly understood that getting a tattoo was a big no-no. On my 18th birthday, after feeling inspired by my newly-inked high school friends, my request to visit the tattoo shop was met with the classic “Not while you’re living under my roof.” To this day, I believe the tattoo ban is the only rule that has yet to be broken by either of my brothers or myself. Yet the transformative properties tattoos can have has always fascinated me. I’ve seen bouquets of roses blossom overnight to cover scars left by self-harm, or kind words spoken by a departed loved one etched themselves deep into the skin of those left behind. Tattoos are, in the most literal sense, the stories of our lives written on our skin. They reveal to the world a lot about the person who wears them, as well as give us insight into how those people view themselves in relation to the world at large.
For Shelley Jackson, an author based out of New York, this message becomes clearer when you look at her work. By launching her project, simply entitled “Skin”, Jackson seeks out volunteers to become an important part of her own personal narrative. Each volunteer receives a tattoo of a single world taken from her story. The story does not exist anywhere else in the world; it can only be found, etched in black ink, on the skin of those that wish to become part of the project. Only by gathering the volunteers all together can Jackson’s narrative be told. Should even one be missing, the story would remain, forever, incomplete.
Despite how it sounds, I found myself inspired and touched by this idea. Jackson’s “Skin” reveals a very basic, often forgotten truth about humanity: each of us, in his or her own way, plays a part in a larger story being told. The marks we carry with us are as different as the words each of Jackson’s volunteers has agreed to tattoo on their body, and without them, the full picture of life would be lost. One by one, a greater narrative plays itself out through the actions of many. It is only by gaining enough volunteers, much like Jackson’s own project, that we can begin to change the course of the narrative that is being told.
Jackson’s project got me thinking about my own place and purpose in life. Oftentimes, I find it discouraging to look back at work that I’ve written. Who am I, a 20-something nobody who lives with his parents, compared to the likes of Austin or Hemingway or King? What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t already been said, and in a way that is probably more eloquent and beautiful than anything I have produced thusfar? It is easy to become discouraged about our greater purpose when we are constantly bombarded by the perceived greatness of others. How can I, a single insignificant person, make any difference at all? This extends to many things: from recycling to our career choices, it is easy to believe that the world wouldn’t miss us if we were gone.
But the truth of the matter is this: each person, regardless of what they do and who they are, acts as a single thread woven into the greater tapestry of Life. Should one go missing or begin to work against the grain, the whole beautiful thing would unravel into chaos. So if you’re like me and find yourself doubting or believe the world wouldn’t miss you if you were gone, take a second to think about it. The bumblebee doesn’t understand the role it plays in the wider ecosystem, yet if one day they ceased to be there to fulfill their role, the world as we know it would collapse.
So who am I to question the importance of the role that I have to play. Even if no one reads this post, it doesn’t diminish the truth that lives within it, or its meaning to me, or even the beauty of the world outside while I sit here writing it. Would Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet have been the same without the likes of Mercutio or the Nurse? Why, Rome and Juliet would have never ventured past the first page, let alone come to be acknowledged as one of the greatest plays of all time!
So as I sit outside writing, with birds singing sweetly overhead, I will take a moment to be thankful. I’m thankful for the sun, which rises every day even though it doesn’t have to. I’m thankful for the trees, which allow me to live just because they keep living. And I’m thankful to you, my readers, who show me every day just how much power kind words have to affect a positive change in a darkening world. If you take away only one thing from this article, then let it be this: stop worrying so much about if you are important and take a lesson from the bees. Simply live, stop and smell the flowers, and know that the world changes each day because you are choosing to live in it.
If you are interested in learning more about Shelley Jackson’s project or wish to be a part of it, I’ve attached a link to her site here.