That’s something Klem used to say before starting a tattoo. It was a joke, of course; Klem’s a smart-alec. But the reason it’s funny is that tattoos hurt. So for those of us who’ve been tattooed a lot, it had a surreal character.
But that’s not the point. The thing isn’t how much tattoos hurt. The thing is, they don’t really hurt that much.
I had a long talk with Tricia about this while getting tattooed Thursday. The thing is, so many people live in fear of pain, and I simply don’t get it. They talk about being afraid of a tattoo. Of not being able to ever take that much pain again.
When did our culture develop this while horror of pain thing? Is this new? did it develop only when we started to be able to treat pain? When we developed aspirin and then tylenol and then NSAIDS that we can pop whenever we feel discomfort?
Or is this just something wired in?
It’s hard for me to believe it’s that innate. I mean, sure, we know pain means don’t do that but that’s very different from today’s attitude that pain is to be avoided at all cost.
And this isn’t to say I’m into pain. I’m not. I keep my bottle of ibuprophen handy. I will pop a pill when pain impedes my ability to do something.
But pain does not in any way scare me. Does that hurt people ask me of my tattoos. Over and over and over. of course it fucking hurts I used to say. It’s done with a fucking needle. But to mis-quote TE Lawrence from Lawrence of Arabia, The trick is not minding that it hurts.
Now, you have to understand that this conversation was carried on while I was getting tattooed on the inside of my upper arm. Not the worst place I’ve ever been tattooed, but certainly one of the more sensitive, particularly since Tricia did the head and tail last. Last is an issue because there’s a point in time where the endorphin high starts to taper off and you just get tired; so the pain and discomfort tolerance goes down. So those last bits were considerably more annoying than most of the piece.
But the thing is, it’s only really annoying most of the time. That’s how I’d describe tattooing, apart from the moments when I get into the right mind-set to ride the endorphin high and actually enjoy the intensity of sensation. Normal times, it’s just irritating.
Pain has so many different characters. Some pain is sharp, intense, some slow, some burning, some electric, some stinging, some throbbing. We don’t have enough words for pain in our language. We don’t have words for good pain, for positive pain, for loving pain. We don’t have words for the pain one feels with achievement, the athletic pain, the pain of fury.
Tattoo pain differs so much. The feeling of getting my fingers tattooed was pure irritation. I wanted to smack Klem when he did it. The pain of getting inked in my armpit is just unpleasant, a burning, ripping, electric sensation. BUt the feeling of the needle on the inside of my bicep could have been sexual, could have been erotic in a different setting.
People who understand the eroticism of pain — these are the people I feel a soul connection with. Masochists and sadists both, I understand them. Those who crave an intensity of sensation normal life does not provide. There is almost nothing more erotic than hearing someone say hurt me.
Click the Continue Reading link for a picture of the new tattoo. It’s a big image so it will load slowly.