Tattoos – as life narrative

Tattoos were once the domain of bikies, sailors, and artists. Marked for life, an indelible stamp of a drunken whim, momentary love or that championship win. In law enforcement, investigations, and disaster identification they are ‘VDM’s’, Visually Distinguishing Marks. Along with scars, facial hair, moles, and unusual characteristics they allow for positive identification. Tattoos were insignia of adversity and affiliations but now often form a greater narrative of one’s life. Until recently a Police officer was required to wear long sleeves to conceal his ‘sleeve’ as it was considered inappropriate. Nowadays the humble tattoo is so mainstream that yes, even I have one, and I am King of the Nerds.

My inner left forearm bears Jesus’ crucifix and an ode to my greatest ever supporter, “Dad”. The Proverb “the righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him” is a summation of what that great man did for me, my mother and brother and serves as a reminder to strive for those same heights for my own children. It also refers to the role I play for students who are in my care each day. Christianity plays a significant role in my life, coming to me at a time when I was struggling with the horrors of being a Detective, leaving the Force and finding a new way. It’s what also led me to teaching and writing.

My inner right arm is another collaboration with local artist Joe Mouquet. Four stacked books, each resemblant with the names of the four women in my life. My grandmother who saw me through my teenage years after my mother Veronica died way too early, my patiently loving wife Brenda, and my greatest achievement yet – my daughter. The open book is symbolic of my story, still being written. Crime Story is a chapter in a grand narrative that has been adding paragraphs for years. The fountain pen is my ‘nod’ to the classics and part of my pen addiction.

Life narrative and artistic representation is a crucial medium. Graphic novels and comics are one of the greatest markets in literature and a fun, creative method of moulding stories. The balance of images and words can be manipulated for your strength: words or image. What I love most is that it art never seems finished. I always seem to be readjusting, reworking, adding more shade, darker outlines, fewer words. I love the mess and the process. I don’t care if I ever finish if I’m enjoying it. Small achievements are vital. Achievements that are measured by me and me alone, not anyone else.

When we are free to create without restraint, we produce our best results. My parents always encouraged me, and I was lucky to have such parents. I was also of a generation that wasn’t constantly judging or seeking validation through the ubiquitous social media. Today’s students can never escape the unrelenting surge of exposure which can be so cruelly denting to their self-esteem. They can’t leave it at school or work, it follows them into the corners of their rooms. Creative and personal pursuits are a tonic, and it was what led me to this outlet to deal with life’s issues. The messier I got with my scribbling, the more my life balanced out. As teachers, it is our duty to provide that opportunity, comfort, and freedom to get messy with our literature. Design some funky tatt’s that describe life. Throw them together in a comic, or a graphic novel, one frame at a time.

The English classroom should be a composite of all media. A full body tattoo of a painted person. The character Jane Doe in the crime procedural ‘Blindspot’ was a maze of interlocking clues that took investigators on a ride like no other. Posing far more questions than answers it took FBI agents into unchartered territory – trust. They had to trust an unknown ‘person of interest’ who was now a part of their team. They had to trust the tattoos. They had to trust their interpretations of these tattoos. They had to be different to be successful. As teachers, we need to be all those things in order for our students take risks. Trust their interpretation. Trust their chosen medium. Start the task by simply asking for a tattoo. Who does it belong to?  Is the character a hero or villain? Where is it set? What is their hobby? What do they wear?

Engage, Inspire…Create

Luke Taylor

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