Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wearing my hope and struggle on my sleeve

I've had a tattoo for over ten years now. It's on my lower back and hidden from sight. I had no intention of ever getting a tattoo that was regularly visible to the world.

But as the years have gone on, I have entertained the thought of getting another, more visible tattoo. Something small, dainty, and literary. Something to show the world that I am a reader and a teacher.

But out of all the books and poems and lines I love from literature, how could I possibly choose a defining one?

For a while I considered getting the line:
My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations
from The Fault in Our Stars because it was my favorite book for a few years. But then it became a pop culture phenomenon with the release of the movie and that gave the book a shelf life for me and the line quickly lost its luster.

Then I considered getting:
I go to seek a great perhaps
on my foot as a way to remind myself that there are so many great perhapses in life for us to go out and seek and I need to be the one to make things happen rather than waiting for them to happen. But... it's sort of like a bad omen that those were someone's last words. So I decided maybe that wasn't the best idea after all.

Then my most recent idea was to get in very small, dainty font on my wrist
Do I dare disturb the universe?
for a couple reasons. 1) Because a student wrote in her final essay last year that I made her think about how she could "disrupt the universe" and that really touched me. 2) As a reminder that there are things in life worth fighting for and that while it might make me and other people uncomfortable, I need to be brave and speak up.What was holding me back about getting this one though is that besides that one line, I'm actually not a huge fan of the poem or of T.S. Eliot. (I'm still traumatized from studying The Waste Land in a grad school class a few years ago.)

But then a few things happened this summer that cemented my decision as to what tattoo to get.

1) Thanks to some of my brave friends who have shared their struggles as well as the teachers sharing their stories on #semicolonEDU, I realized that I have been struggling with anxiety for many years and am just finally starting to give it a name.
2) A former student of mine took his own life last month and it shook my very soul.
3) I started reading up on Project Semicolon and love its message and mission.

So yesterday, before my husband and I went out to dinner for our regular Friday date night, I went to a tattoo place in Ann Arbor and got this:

Now I want to make something very clear. I am not, nor have I ever been suicidal. My semicolon has a slightly different symbolic meaning to me than its original intention. Actually, truth be told, it has several symbolic meanings, which is why I decided it was the perfect tattoo for me. Here is what the semicolon means to me:

1) A semicolon is sophisticated punctuation. There is a great deal of nuance that I didn't really understand until I was well out of college. So it symbolizes my growth as a writer, reader, and teacher.
2) A semicolon is a difficult and complicated piece of punctuation to understand. And I am a difficult and complicated person to try to understand. I need to be more forgiving of myself when I'm having a hard time articulating my feelings.
3) A semicolon is a reminder to stop and pause when my anxiety is getting the best of me. That things might seem bad to me at that moment, but that the only way out is through. And I will get through it.
4) A semicolon on my wrist is a conversation starter. A way to talk about mental health in a safe, non-threatening way with anyone who feels alone and like they can't talk about it.

Social media, and our real-life public personas for that matter, is often a place where we only share our joys and triumphs. We filter our photos, posts, and conversations through rose colored lenses. But let's also be brave enough to share our struggles and our sorrows. Humans are three-dimensional beings. We have emotions that go far beyond happiness and excitement. Let's stop sweeping those less flattering emotions under the rug – because we all have them; we're often just really good at hiding them. But at what cost?

So in the words of the Semicolon Project:
Stay strong; Love endlessly; Change lives.

I do dare disturb the universe.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres


  1. I've never had a tattoo and never wanted one...until I saw the semicolon. I love your interpretation of it. I love that you got it remembering the student you lost. It's powerful! You really have me thinking...

    Thank you for being so brave! I just love this tattoo and what it represents!!!

  2. What an intentional tattoo. Well, I guess all are. But I enjoyed reading your reasoning. I hope it sparks conversations because this is an important subject.

  3. Your last paragraph here is VERY important. Brave and inspired and true.

  4. Thank you for sharing. Did you read Marty Keltz's post on Project Semicolon? Stand tall to exhibit what you want others to see in you.

  5. I will never use a semicolon again without thinking about the last words of you text.

  6. I will never use a semicolon again without thinking for at least a moment about the last words of your post.

  7. Thanks for encouraging us to share our struggles as well as our celebrations. I needed to hear that today.

  8. Yes! I love this. I believe we all deal with mental health in some way, shape or form and the Semicolon Project speaks to me because of this. I love the entire idea of taking a deep breath and keeping on and I love the simplicity of the tattoo. I may be headed to a tattoo parlor too!

  9. I love that our Saturday celebrations are places to share the grit as well as the glory of our everyday lives. Loe these words from your post today: "But let's also be brave enough to share our struggles and our sorrows."

  10. What a thoughtful process. Thanks for sharing it with us

  11. Thanks for sharing, Beth. This is beautiful, and I really appreciate your honesty and compassion for yourself and others. Peace and Love, Sister.

  12. As Carrie said, that last paragraph is so important. We often show the positives and hide our struggles. Thank you for being brave.