believe and hope

Guest blogger, Gina Snooks, is a Master of Gender Studies student at Memorial University. She’s currently writing her thesis on women’s tattooing practices and spirituality. In September 2015, she’ll begin doctoral work in the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research at the University of Western Ontario.

Believe and Hope: A Tattoo Story
By Gina Snooks
(adapted from a blog post originally published on 3 November 2013 on researching otherwise, the class blog for GNDR6100)

Believe and Hope.
Those are my words.

Words, etched by the pen of my only child and permanently engraved into my arm by the needle of my tattoo artist. Believe and Hope.

To borrow words from Mumford & Sons, my words Believe and Hope “give me hope in the darkness…” (find the song Ghosts that we Knew on Youtube here)

Change.
Transformation.
Rebirth.

A butterfly, etched by the pen of my only child, permanently engraved into my arm by the needle of my tattoo artist, reminds me that all things change. All things transform. Out of the darkness lives are reborn.

Freedom? Someone else spoke of freedom. Do butterflies represent freedom? You cannot catch them she said—they are free. Freedom…

Believe and Hope.

An autoethnography, explains Tami Spry, “is first and foremost a critical reflection upon one’s experiences within specific social/cultural/political locations” (2011, 129). That is to say, autoethnography is a story of a self, but not a story of a self alone. It is part auto/biography and part ethnography. Partly a life story and partly a study of people. It is a messy telling of being with others (Spry 2011, 27)—personal—political—often painful—and sometimes transformative.

“In performative autoethnography the heart, body, mind, spirit et al. are openly and critically reflective; as such, epistemologies of pain and hope emerge” (2011, 35), so says Tami Spry. And, it seems to me that she might know a thing or two about performing powerful, painful, personal, political autoethnography.

Believe and Hope.

If I were performing my tattoo story, on a stage with a simple black curtain and a single light focused on a simple wooden chair, like Tami, I would probably wear a classy black dress. Sleeveless of course. I might drape a shawl across my shoulders until I was ready to unveil my story. I wouldn’t wear a red shawl though; it can be a painful colour for me.

I might speak out into the audience….

“Did it hurt?” they ask me.
“No” I say.
“Not at all?”
“No, not at all” I affirm.

And I would be telling the truth, partly. It didn’t hurt at all. Not physically. But I almost cried when my tattoo artist showed me the mirror when she was done.

I shed a tear when he gifted me the image as well, not in his sight. But when the door closed between us.

Believe and Hope.

“It’s beautiful” some would say.
Others would say, “it’s so BIG.”

I’d smile. I like to hear it’s beautiful.
Then I would shrug my shoulders. I don’t give a shit that others think it’s BIG. It’s not their skin—it’s not their story. Well, it’s kinda their story too, but it’s not their skin.

You see, “[p]erformative autoethnography represents the connection between the personal experience and cultural assumptions, between the word and the body, and offers the researcher healing through enacting this connections” (Spry 2011, 52).

Change.
Transformation.
Rebirth.

The personal is inherently political (Spry 2011, 53). Personal—political—often painful—and sometimes transformative.

Believe and Hope.

Tami Spry says that her “body is a cultural billboard advertising the effects of selves/others/contexts interacting upon it” (2011, 93)—my tattoo story is like that too.

If I were to perform my tattoo story I might step onto the stage and scream at the audience: “Wake up!” Or I might cry because they don’t.

If I were to perform my tattoo story—I would have to perform the stories of others—and of Others because, as Victoria Pitts informs, body art reflects “the social and political locations of individual bodies in the larger power relations of society,” conscious and otherwise (2003, 14). I am conscious of the larger power relations of society revealed in my tattoo story. I have to be, though sometimes I wish I could forget.

If I were to perform my tattoo story, I might pace back and forth across the stage, pausing to look inquisitively at the audience. I might wonder if they were really out there, listening to me. I might peer through the darkness speaking distantly of a young mother and of a little boy.

Or I might stand at center stage with my arms crossed defiantly, speaking of colonialism and its continued impact on Northern communities—our communities. I might speak of systemic oppression, of lost languages and broken family ties. I might speak of racism, classism, misogyny, despair.

Or I might not. Instead, I might speak of hope in the darkness and I might speak of light.

If I were to perform my tattoo story I might speak of community, togetherness, solidarity, hope. I might want the audience to understand that the “self is constructed through interactions with others” (Spry 2011, 132) and so, no story is owned by a single author.

Believe and Hope.

“…experience means nothing until it is interpreted…” (Spry 2011, 19).

Performing autobiography is hard. It makes you vulnerable. Exposed to scrutiny—a text to be analyzed. Performing autoethnography is harder. It makes you more vulnerable. In performing autoethnography, the self cannot be separated from the Others and the stories of Others. Thus, performing autoethnography requires the deepest kind of critical reflection—self reflection using Others as a mirror, whilst simultaneously analyzing Others in the reflection of self. As Spry reminds us, performance location is a space of great risk—of personal and of cultural risk. Yet, it is also a space of profound comfort (2011, 47).

The truth is, no matter how deeply the lines of my story are woven within those of a larger narrative I will not perform my tattoo story—not yet anyway. Sometimes transformative—often painful—political, and so deeply personal.

Reference:

Spry, Tami. Body, Paper, Stage: Writing and Performing Autoethnography (Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2011)

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