Cursive Letters Into Knives: About My Newest Tattoo

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When I was thirteen, I fell in love with my two favorite bands, one right after the other. I listened to Green Day’s American Idiot on my Discman every morning and afternoon, to and from school, and I was quickly sucked into the mystery of who was singing the opening to “Letterbomb.” Digging through the liner notes, I found Kathleen Hanna’s name credited and did what googling I could from there. YouTube didn’t exist yet. Wikipedia was still so young. The best thing I came up with was a thirty-second clip of “Rebel Girl” on the VH1 website. So I took a few notes, and on my next trip to FYE, I picked up a copy of Pussywhipped.

I listened to it in the car on the way home, the sounds harsh and unpolished in my headphones, and it might not have been instant love, but it was definitely second-listening love.

A month ago, just over twelve years later, I got my second Bikini Kill tattoo (the first being the turntable off of the New Radio album). Dan and I were driving home Brattleboro on a Saturday afternoon, windows down, Green Day’s Revolution Radio loud in the few speakers my car has, and it felt like it was finally time for this one. It’s an idea I’d had for probably ten years, but in the last few I’ve just never had the money for it, so I kept putting it off and getting smaller black and grey pieces instead. But this time the money was in savings, and I couldn’t in my heart wait any longer.

A switchblade tattoo with the words "We are turning cursive letters into knives" wrapped around it

I’ve listened to every Bikini Kill album countless times since I first discovered them. Various songs have cycled through my life as something of an anthem at that moment when I needed it, but the one I always come back to–besides the undeniable “Rebel Girl”–is “Bloody Ice Cream,” from the album Reject All American. It’s always appealed to my writer sensibilities, and its impact has grown all the more noticeable over the years.

The song is short, half a dozen lines or so long, but it’s always been influential to me.

The Sylvia Plath story is told to girls who write
They want us to think that to be a girl poet means you have to die
Who is it that told me all the girls who write must suicide?
I’ve another good one for you
We are turning cursive letters into knives

It’s brief, but it’s full of bite and meaning to me. The phenomenon of women writers committing suicide (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf). The bullshit nature of that overwhelming narrative–these women weren’t just cases of suicide but amazing writers. And the power that we have when we write, using the words to fight and to survive.

That last line has always felt like a big “fuck you” to that fatalist narrative to me, and it’s stuck with me. It’s how I made it to twenty-six and how I’ll make it to twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and beyond. And this tattoo is to remind me of that and how much it matters to me and the impact that women writers–tragic or not–have had on my life and the world.

May 22, 2017
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