Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

tattooed women & liminal spaces ~

imageI ‘got inked’ with my younger son when I was in Portland last month. He asked, and I was charmed. I already have one tattoo — a small Chinese character for ‘ink,’ almost unnoticeable on my inside right ankle.

This one is NOT unnoticeable. Friends vary in their reactions. Some were horrified (truly — you can tell). Others (particularly old friends & family) were accepting; they’ve known me to do far weirder things. I’m lucky to have the best of husbands — he said my dragon was beautiful. I think so too.


I’m year of the dragon, which by most Asian standards is a great thing to be. And the dragon seems to me the perfect symbol for the changes I’ve been going through.

The tattoo had been in the back of my head for a long time. In Chinese, Việtnamese, and Thai mythologies, the dragon is ancient & wise. The old I can vouch for feeling these days; the wise I hope to grow into. Dragons in Western mythologies are there primarily, it always seemed to me, to serve as proving grounds for homicidal knights. And/or to devour nubile maidens. But I’ve (obviously) never seen them that way.image


As a child, I went w/ my family every Tết to the annual dragon dance, known sometimes as the lion dance. My mother told me I too was a dragon (I think I’ve known this since was no older than 9). So I never rooted for the ‘heroes’ who slayed the poor dragon. I always rooted for the dragon.

Later, the dragon became a kind of talisman for me. Fearless, winged, wise and just. It’s what I’d like to be. Still. :)

Once, years ago, a man on the bus saw my small ‘ink’ tattoo and said I didn’t seem like the kind of woman who would get a tattoo. Hmmmm. Just what kind of woman DOES get a tattoo, Tom? And what kind of woman do you think I am? The conversation went downhill pretty quickly ~


Because poets are EXACTLY the kind of people to make metaphors concrete, tangible. I wanted ‘ink’ in my blood, hence my first tattoo so many years ago, while I was working hard to perfect my craft. Now? I want to go forward into these next years with wings. I want to fight for what’s right, and be able to tell the difference between attachment and justice. So my dragon is a doorway into that next place, a threshold space, if you will. A liminal space where beginner’s heart can continue growing.

imageIt’s also art. Body art, yes, but I think it’s beautiful. I like the colours (each of which I discussed ad infinitum nauseaum w/ Sean, at Infinity Tattoo in Portland. And art — whether with a big A or a small a — is good, as Sean says. Always. :)


I don’t think everyone gets a tattoo for the same reasons I have. But then, how many retired college professors have sons who want to go get tattooed together? And a fixation on dragons…? :)


  • Antoinette

    Britton, I love this post and your new tattoo!
    Quite fitting for you, and as someone who has sought your advice many times, let me say that you certainly seem wise to me.

    • Britton Gildersleeve

      Mindie, that makes my day! Thanks so much — at least I’m not going gently! :)

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