…This may sting a bit…

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. […]

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.


18 thoughts on “…This may sting a bit…”

  1. That is GREAT design! (And the tattoo’s not bad, either.) I love that Polynesian look.

    I don’t get the whole fear-of-pain thing either. At some point in my life, my whole outlook changed when I realized this: PAIN IS TEMPORARY. When that kicked in for me, I became all about doing things for the experience and not worrying about getting hurt. Even broken bones eventually heal, so go for it.

    Hell, if pain was a reason not to do something cool, childbirth just wouldn’t happen. Pain passes and what you’re left with is the experience. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, a great tattoo.

  2. Pain is transient. There is no memory of pain that’s true to the experience. Fear of pain is what debilitates. And not just physical pain, either. Fear of change, loss, whatever. It’s all fear of pain in one sense or another, and I try very hard to keep it from informing my choices.

  3. Very nice. I don’t like many tribal/primitive designs but that’s beautifully done.

    I don’t understand fear of pain, but I do think some people are hard-wired that way. If everyone feared the same things, the species would die out.

  4. Tanya, that’s specifically polynesian, very much not tribal. That make seem like a trivial point, but tribal is a very specific style influenced by the Dayak tribes of borneo. Somewhere along the line the word tribal got applied to any all black tattoo.

    Aside from being graphic and black, polynesian is a completely different artistic heritage; specifically, this is (influenced by) the Maori of New Zealand.

    The piece it’s next to is your classic tribal; vaguely influenced by Dayak, but more free-form/abstract.

    That’s another thing Tricia and I talked about; how often we have to correct people who call in tribal. B^)

  5. I stand corrected. “I like the swirlies” seemed too juvenile a way of saying it, but the all-black designs so rarely seem to have that much intricacy. Obviously I just haven’t seen enough of them to judge. :o)

    Incidentally, one of my tattoos crosses my achilles tendon, and that was by far the most (physically) painful experience of my life. Even the one on my spine didn’t hurt that much.

  6. When I had my ankle and foot redone by Zeek in Wisconsin it was over both inner and outer ankle bone, across the achilles and down the crest of my foot. He told me I could scream at him. I laughed.

    He said if I came it would cost more…. pain is so subjective.

    Thanks for allowing me to post.

  7. Really nice ink.

    When people ask me if getting tattooed hurts, I sort of shrug and say, not really, but it feels really good when it stops.

  8. While trying to get my mind off the pain during the last couple of sessions, my thoughts wandered around to the subject of blowjobs. Go figure. Turns out that just going into sexual fantasy world for a while really helps you forget whats going on, and your erection disappears right around the same time the endorphins start wearing off.

    Chris and I were discussing that taking it to the next level and having an actual girl giving you head while you’re getting tattooed would really take your mind off the pain, although he wisely noted, “That’ll probably cost you extra.”

  9. I’ve mentioned it before: Bactine. The little bit of lidocaine in it takes the edge off. It helps to postone the ‘point in time where the endorphin high starts to taper off and you just get tired’ thing. It really helped when I was getting my ribs done.

  10. When I got my last tattoo, I decided to do some serious mantra/meditation and see what kind of groovy experience that would bring me. I totally tranced out. Still felt all of it, but it was a completely different type of pain. Fun, if you’re up for it.

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