LS: Bruce Cameron Column December 21, 2008

The tabula tattoo taboo

Tattoos are how my children’s generation expresses its individuality, which is why they all have one.

I’ve got nothing against tattoos: They’ve been used for centuries to identify which sailors on a particular ship got drunk the night before. But at least those sailors, upon awakening and seeing the name Sheila inked into their shoulders, have the satisfaction of being able to say,
“Who the heck is Sheila?”

My children are not sailors, but they are all of the generation that is determined to do to their own flesh what the Exxon Valdez did to the Alaskan coastline.

“You don’t need to draw permanent lines in your skin,” I’ve told them. “Believe me, age will do it for you.”

They roll their eyes at this. Clearly, I don’t know anything. “It’s how I express my freedom of expression,” my daughter says.

“It’s also how incarcerated felons express their boredom,” I counter. Another eye roll.

“I’m going to get one that says ‘tabula rasa,’” she announces. “It’s Latin.”

“You don’t speak Latin!” I respond sharply.

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“You don’t even like Latin music!”

It’s ironic that when I say something intelligent, like, “Eventually your tattoo will fade and stretch and look like some sort of skin disease,” my children pretend I’m stupid. But when I say something stupid, like, “You don’t even like Latin music,” they act like I’ve made a good point.

“I like some Latin music,” my daughter corrects.

“Tabula rasa means ‘blank slate,’ ” I inform her.

“I know what it means,” she answers. “That’s why I want it.”

“You can’t write ‘blank slate’ on your skin,” I fume at her. “Once you write it, the slate’s no longer blank! That would be like going to the blackboard and writing, ‘There’s nothing written on this blackboard.’ ”

“Oh, Dad,” my daughter responds, pity in her voice. “We use whiteboards now.”

“Why not put, ‘Your Ad Here,’ while you’re at it?” I suggest. “No, wait, if you’re being ironic, why not, ‘Do not read this?’ Or how about, ‘I don’t have a tattoo’?”

“Dad. ‘Tabula rasa’ because my life is a blank slate, see? I don’t know what is in my future.”

“I do. What’s in your future is paying a doctor to have the words ‘tabula rasa’ removed from your arm.”

“If that’s in the future, that’s in the future,” my daughter reasons with undeniable accuracy.

“Que sera sera. What will be will be.”

“No, what will sera doesn’t need to sera,” I reply. “Whether a tattoo will be or not will be is your choice, so you will need to go to the dermatologist to have it removed only if you decide to put it there in the first place.”

She looks at me as if I’m, well, speaking Latin.

“I suppose you think que sera sera is Latin, too,” I say bitterly. “Famously recorded by Doris Day, that well-known singer of Latin music.”

“You’ve really lost it, Dad,” she admires.

There goes my theory that if I spew nonsense my children will take me seriously.

I’m frustrated: How to explain it to her, or to any of my children? You take your skin for granted — it’s just there, covering your body, until one day it starts developing little marks and creases on its own, like an old wallet wearing out.

Inside, you feel as if your tabula is still rasa, but what will be has already been, for the most part, and it all shows on the outside. Why hasten the transformation of the skin from a beautifully blank slate to a blackboard (or whiteboard) full of scrawlings and calculations?

But, like drunk sailors and bored felons, my children will not be deterred.

My son’s back has complicated geometrics inked into it — it looks like space aliens have been making crop circles.

My daughters have more subtle designs, with the one who wants the Latin inscription holding off until she can decide on the way she wants the drawing done (you don’t want “nothing written here” inked into your skin in the wrong font).

I guess they’re legally old enough to get tattoos if they want them. I’ll just have to accept it.

Que sera, sera.



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