BadAssTattooooo

Boyd’s Bad Ass Tattoo

by: Greg Boyd

In the process of working through a philosophical issue surrounding the openness of the future around twenty years ago, I and two friends (Alan Rhoda and Tom Belt) ended up creating the “Hexagon of Opposition”, or “Hexagonic Logic of Futurity,” as I’ve sometimes called it. I’ll explain what it all means in my next post.  In this post, I just want to share my experience of getting my first –and, I strongly suspect, my only – tattoo.

Even before Alan Rhoda put the finishing touches on the Hexagon by connecting the altern and sub-altern relationships, I promised myself that, if ever I became sufficiently convinced that this Hexagon was valid, I would have it tattooed on my back. Well, thanks in large part to the work of Elijah Hess, I recently decided I’m now as convinced of the Hexagon’s validity as I’ll ever be.[1] And so, on Tuesday, January 7th, my tattoo-seasoned friend Clifton, who works at Leviticus in Minneapolis (awesome shop, by the way), did me the honors.

Now, over the years I have spoken with a good number of people about their tattoo experiences, and I was consistently told things like: “It stung a bit,” and, “it felt like a slight burning sensation.” So, on Tuesday afternoon, I naively laid face down on Cliff’s table expecting to distract myself from a “slight burning sensation” by engaging in imaginative prayer with beautiful music playing in the background.

I wouldn’t describe what I experienced as anything like a “slight burning sensation.” It felt more like a searing how razor slowly carving up my back!

I immediately wanted to stop it! This was not what I thought I had signed up for!  But how could I stop? My back was already marked, and every second I delayed it was becoming more so.  Even more importantly, I would look like such a total wimp if I were to quit!  How could I face those who knew I was planning on getting this tattoo?  And what of the cool people I had just met at Leviticus, several of whom were getting tattoos and showing no signs of distress because of it?

No, quitting was not an option!  I simply had to endure this!

Ten or so minutes into my ordeal – which felt like an eternity – I told Cliff I needed to take a break. I explained that I had seriously underestimated the level of pain involved in getting a tattoo, that my respect for people with tattoos just skyrocketed, and that I needed a minute or two to wrap my head around the unexpected painful reality I found myself in.

I wondered why I was acting like such a weeny! I’ve actually always had a high threshold for pain. In fact, up until several years ago when it became too hard on my body, I enjoyed regularly pushing myself to the absolute limit of pain and exhaustion. It’s why I enjoyed running marathons and ultra-marathons.  Whether working out or racing, I adopted this badass “bring-it-on” attitude toward pain.  And when I could get into that zone, I actually enjoyed a feeling of being stronger than my pain – strong enough to taunt it with a sneering, “Is that all you’ve got?”

If I had any hope of enduring the next two hours of pain with any sort of dignity, I thought to myself, I would have to once again get in touch with that badass part of myself. The trouble is, you can only get badass with pain when there is something worth suffering for.  I had a remarkable tolerance for pain while running ultras because I loved trying to win, or at least to finish as high in the standings as possible. Dumb as it was, my suffering had a purpose.

But what was the purpose of my suffering this last Tuesday?  It was to acquire a Tattoo. Unfortunately, whatever it is that excites folks about getting tattoos, I apparently have much less of it than they do. I thought a tattoo on the back might be “sort of cool”—enough so to perhaps warrant putting up with “a slight burning sensation” for a couple of hours.  But is was not nearly enough to warrant allowing someone to carve up your back with a hot razor!

So, I was left only with my pride to motivate me. Yet, far from feeling adequate, the motivation to save face struck me as asinine! Why should I care if some people think I’m a wimp?

I was still searching for a motivation when Cliff mentioned that we should get back to business if we wanted to finish the tattoo in one session. Even as I was tepidly positioning myself face down on Cliff’s table, I was saying to myself “This is utterly absurd!”

And that, ironically enough, is when I found my motivation to be badass.  Yes, it is absurd to suffer this ordeal for a tattoo that doesn’t even mean that much to me and that hardly anyone will ever see. But that, I decided, is precisely why I am going to do this! It’s about time I take a break from the ordinary perfectly reasonable monotony that is my life and do something completely absurd. It’s about time I embrace pain simply to demonstrate that I’m stronger than it.

I switched out my pretty Imaginative Prayer music and queued up Slipnot. Sorry Jesus, but there is a time for everything under the sun, and getting tattooed is definitely a Slipnot moment. I then turned my headphones all the way up, popped a Jolly Ranger into my mouth, and said to Clifton, with a wry smile, “Bring it on!”

I’m not saying it was instant, nor am I saying it was constant, but like an old friend popping by for a visit, I began to experience that deep satisfaction of feeling stronger than the pain I was in.  I won’t claim that my previous razor carving sensation was reduced to nothing more than an “irritating burning sensation.” Truth be told, at times it still hurt like hell! But the badass bring-it-on attitude worked well enough to allow me to survive the entire two hours and fifteen-minute session that I had left.

And now that I’ve got the Hexagon permanently etched on my back, I’m actually glad I was naïve about how much pain would be involved. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Now that I’ve done it, however, well, I may as well admit it: I feel I’ll just a little bit badass.

Next post: what does the Hexagon mean?

___ ___ ___

1 see: See Hess’ forthcoming essay, “The Neo-Molinist Square Stands Firm: A Rejoinder to Kirk MacGregor,” in Philosophia Christi; see also Elijah Hess Profile.

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