I hopped on a flight this week to head out to Grants Pass Oregon to visit Laura Jade, a BADASS tattoo artist working out of 26 Swords Tattoo. I had spent a couple years with the concept in my mind for a full sleeve, then early this year FOUND my artist. I just knew it had to be her. Anyway, after a couple re-bookings because of life I found myself out in Oregon getting ready to sit for a couple full day tattoo sessions. I knew it wouldn’t be the most peaceful process. lol
To be honest I was feeling totally “tough” that first morning. Ready for the pain, ready for the endurance, just plain ready. Laura asked me if I felt ok with the two day sessions as she doesn't do them anymore because she was having too many clients drop out early from pain. I said “oh yeah sure, I’ll be ok” and “I like the pain” lol funny because what I meant was I like the transformation pain brings me, not the actual pain itself. The session started out very peaceful with her hand drawing her design on my. I settled into the shop and experience and was really enjoying it, then it was time to bring out the needle.
I quickly remembered the sharp driving sting of a tattoo, it’s almost like I had forgotten it, even though I have had many hours of work not too long ago. Funny thing about tattoo work is it’s a line at a time. You get a breather after every stroke or pass. They last anywhere from a second or two and the pain depends on the area and needle. If your curious about that stuff just google it.
I guess my point is tattoo pain can be intense but it’s in doses, that are pretty much tolerable. Pain pain pain, breathe. Pain pain pain, breathe. Its manageable. Some people act like they couldn’t stand the pain of a tattoo but honestly anybody could. It’s not fun, but it’s not crazy pain. It’s tolerable. Much of my struggle came down to time in the chair. Which I want to talk about.
So I do believe there is enlightenment with pain, and I was excited to dive in.
Day 1 was manageable. Towards the end I was done for the day. Start of day 2 was different, my mental stamina had changed. I was really having to focus on enduring. I was having new thoughts on pain, and I was using new techniques to cope. Here’s some of the things I learned with my pain:
The universe seemed to always give me as much as I could handle then pull back - Every time I was to a point like “FUCK THIS” something would change. She would switch spots, finish an area, spray some numbing stuff, something. I remember thinking “what if the universe knew what I could take and would just take care of me?” That mentality sort of worked. It felt like someone was looking out for me and knew me. Maybe this is the essence of faith, real or not it worked, and if I just endured with faith who knows when it would end or begin. Who knows, but faith that something had my back helped.
Loud Tool music somehow helped me endure - On day 1 they played a lot of Tool. Something about that music resonates with me ESPECIALLY in dark times. Tattoo work was the perfect fit. Second day I needed more help. Through some of the intense spots I just threw in phones and BLASTED Tool. The music resonated, and I felt connected, and somehow the pain had purpose. Somehow this was a beautiful transition I was going through and there was some joy in it. Yep just Tool music, weird huh.
Madness relieved pain, and I wonder if it works big picture as well, like with my divorce. Some parts of the tattoo the pain was so intense I got fucking MAD. I literally scowled and wanted to fucking kill someone. These moments of biting back into the pain helped. They made me feel stronger than the pain. The madness was empowering a bit. Now and then it just fit, but I don’t enjoy being pissed. lol Funny thing is through my divorce I had some very intense madness that didn’t fit the specific circumstance. I wonder if I felt sadness and weakness for so long it was my minds way of “biting back.” I’m not sure. But madness may have that purpose. It for sure shows me what areas of my life I need to take action in and do things differently.
Human touch helped me cope - When Laura was holding my arm I could take more pain. So when she worked on my fore-arm and held it I felt stronger. When I was facing away alone, I felt more vulnerable and felt weaker. It was a really odd thing. That little bit of touch strengthened me. I kept thinking “when I’m struggling I should let people in because even the lightest connection and support helps.” Being strong AND being alone seems like a bad combo, and I’m guilty of isolating when I’m sad. Less of that.
5. My mind is stronger than my body, but I was willing to listen to my body - By the end of day 2 I was thinking to myself “I will die to get through this. NO WAY I’m stopping” but my body was starting to shake. In fact it would do these little convulsions of shake at random times. It was showing me it had had enough. With about an hour left Laura said “I’m actually at a good stopping point where anything else would be new work, I don’t really want to do it. I can keep tattooing you if your ego wants me to? But I would rather not.” Initially I was thinking “FUCK THAT, I’M GOING THE DISTANCE,” but I’m trying to go with the flow and be kinder to my body, especially lately. So I sad no that’s fine I trust you. We spent the last hour taking pictures and wrapping it up. It was the right timing, and my body was done, and I was proud. I’m going to continue this way of thinking.
6. At one point at the end I was starting to feel like I “couldn’t go on.” - I was mentally sort of feeling broken and fragile. I could not have been tough much longer. I remember thinking “I’ve felt this way about my entire life recently, I wonder if there’s any similarities.” Then I wondered “If I’m a strong person, how would I know in this exact moment, I feel so broken and weak.” My conclusion was sometimes in life you will be broken and weak and there’s not much you can do. The only way you can feel reassurance you’re a strong person is to look at your past and what you’ve been through already. Then be kind to yourself and begin to heal and regain your power. For me there will be moments where I WILL NOT be strong or capable of making a strong decision. That’s ok. My past tells me I am strong.
7. 2 Day merit badge makes me feel proud - I’m explained the pain to some people since I’ve been home and most are like “why?” Honestly it could be an ego thing, or insecurity thing. I couldn’t only explain it as feeling proud of myself for enduring more than most. I use these “feats of strength” to recall on when I’m feeling weak. They help me remember who I am and what I’m capable of. I like getting this merit badge, so whatever.
Because of Laura, her studio, the process I can say I absolutely LOVED getting this sleeve done, pain and all. Here’s a picture of the final result. I was shooting for a custom timeless piece of beautiful black and white art. Some floral, some pattern, some gradient shade, some stipple, and Laura absolutely 100% delivered. Check it out: