Ink Tales

Five Wornettes share stories about their tattoos

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Kat Wornette’s forearm
One of the most memorable events of my late teenage years wasn’t graduating high school (I left early), prom (see previous), or anything of that nature—it was the demolition of a favourite building.
Standing six-stories proud at the corner of 13th & Pacific since 1891, the Luzon Building was one of Tacoma, Washington’s first “skyscrapers,” and one of my first architectural infatuations. Abandoned since the ’80s and the last building on an otherwise vacant block, its spectral presence was a historic treasure or an eyesore, depending on who you asked. I was firmly of the former opinion along with many others, and we were all saddened when it was demolished in 2009, despite efforts to save it. Still angry over the demolition, I turned my attention to reading as much as possible about the building’s history, and I discovered that it was designed by one of the most prominent architectural firms of the late 19th century—Burnham & Root of Chicago. The story of these architects is fascinating; they helped to pioneer the design of North America’s earliest high-rise buildings.

I knew I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate both the Luzon and Burnham & Root. I decided on a quote widely attributed to Daniel Burnham himself that begins “Make no little plans”—a fitting tribute as well as a good reminder to myself. So last May, while on vacation in Chicago, I got the phrase inked up the inside of my arm in spidery Victorian lettering taken directly from one of Burnham & Root’s architectural drawings. I’m delighted with how the design turned out, and its advice is hard to ignore when I have to look at it all the time!

(The extended version of this story involves nearly getting arrested, but you’ll have to ask me about that in person.)

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Nicole Wornette’s ribs
I have an obligatory lunch once a season. For the last three years of university, our bedroom doors opened onto the same living room, and the overheard noises we made during sex were just another way to know each other; tantamount to any other house sound. Though we were categorically similar, we had little in common where it counted. Simply choosing a movie to watch together was always a long, dull heartbreak, for example.

It has been my experience that having friends you feel lonely beside serves a crucial function: sharpening your ability to recognize your true tribe.

What this amounts to is that, with graduation now years at our backs, my old university roommates live together one 30-minute streetcar ride away from me and I feel tremendous guilt for how little I see them. So every few months I let it happen but always get wickedly intoxicated to temper things. A girl can only hear, “Okay…what else is new?” so many times before the shadows close in.

On one of these lunches, the topic of tattoos came up. This struck me as a pretty neutral topic until:

“Oh my god, Nicole! Remember when you wanted to get that 30 Rock quote tattooed on your ribs?!”

And:

“I bet you’re so happy you didn’t, right?”

And also:

“I know you really liked that show but that’s totally a thing you would have regretted.”

And finally:

“I’m so glad we talked you out of that one.”

Now I had a decision to make. Because at that very moment, emblazoned across my ribs in black inked Courier New was “I want to go to there”, my favourite of Liz Lemon’s catchphrases on NBC’s 30 Rock. This is a tattoo I’ve now had and loved for years. I have never regretted it for so much as a moment; even weathering the requisite later-season deterioration of my beloved 30 Rock without questioning my decision to commemorate it on my flesh. It is by far the least meaningful of my tattoos but is also my favourite.

Plus having a notoriously painful rib tattoo is the only thing about me that is hard, tough, or street.

Sitting across from them, I could predict the exquisite fallout of me saying, “Actually, I did get that tattoo. Wanna see?” and lifting my shirt up in the bar. Their supreme awkwardness, mental notes to discuss my foolishness once I was gone, the unacknowledged gorge separating us widening further still. I saw it all and was hungry for it but instead I said:

“Haha, yeah. That sure would have been stupid of me. Thank for stopping me and stuff, you two.”

Honestly, it just didn’t feel worth it. All it would have meant was one more uncomfortable conversation, one more round of pitying glances, one more pregnant silence in a lunch that felt like it would never end.

No. It wasn’t worth the trouble. I shut my mouth and thanked the air for the people I now have who understand why the stuff that appeals to me appeals to me.

That’s right, Elsasser, save the story for the tribe.

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Ishita Wornette’s nowhere
I never wanted a tattoo until my parents told me I couldn’t have one. As a kid in an Indian family, I heard constantly that drugs, motorcycles, piercings, and tattoos were all in the same category—dangerous and forbidden. But now at 19, I’ve come to the realization that despite my parents’ greatest and most communicated fears, I’ve been a goodie-two-shoes my whole life. Always afraid of breaking the rules, I’ve never dyed my hair, smoked a cigarette, or gotten more than my ears pierced. And I definitely have no tattoos.

Lately, I’ve started to embrace my inner rebel in my own small way. I’m not afraid anymore to lob all my hair off, make strange fashion choices, or wear wacky jewelry. And I’m slowly beginning to accept that I am, quite frankly, in love with tattoos. While my browsing history and bookmarks are full of tattoo designs, I know it will take a great deal of courage to break my inherent reluctance to displease. But progress has been made—all this dallying around, needing to figure out a meaningful design, has stopped. I know that when I make the commitment to get my tattoo, I’ll figure out exactly what I want my special swirl of ink to be. And that time is coming soon.

20th birthday present, anyone?

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Angela Wornette’s lower back
After years of contemplating a number of designs (that I am now really glad I didn’t settle on), I finally went to get my first tattoo in 2003. I found Ryan at a Queen West Parlour to help me draw a unique “fancy bar with all the curls that divides up sections in old books” with which to permanently decorate my lower back. In my mind, this was the perfect symbol to simultaneously allude to my bookworm tendencies and penchant for frivolous decor and I couldn’t have been more ready.

As much as I had mentally prepared for the big inking day though, no amount of pain in my young adult life could have prepared me for what felt like miniature cars equipped with scalpel-sharp wheels racing on the track of my spine. Despite the original estimate of the process to take up to four hours, an hour is all I could actually endure. At the first mention of a break, I deemed the pain too great (and my dedication to my vision too weak) to continue. I sprung off of the seat and declared the session over. I remember nodding dizzily at Ryan as he heartily suggested that I come back at a future date for another sitting.

Many years later, with the experiences of a surface piercing and another tattoo under my belt, I have mixed feelings about returning to have my first tattoo finished. The hard, clean lines void of any shading or details reminds me pleasantly of the simple outlines in colouring books. Through the years, I have come across countless ornamental section breaks (as I finally found out they are commonly referred to, seeing as that they still lack a proper name), and I’ve come to the fortunate realization that their being frivolously ornate is not a must.

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Sofie Wornette’s collarbone
I was always told to be good. My parents, my friends, and now my lover: it’s all she says to me before I leave for a night out, before I go out for drinks.

I am not good. I was an angry, spontaneous, generally troublesome kid. Sometimes I still get angry and I often do spontaneous things.

I was not good before, and I’m not good now.

In contemplating my fourth spur-of-the-moment walk-in tattoo before I went into New Tribe, my go-to inkers, I thought about what I’d get and where I’d get it. I was hand in hand with my girlfriend and I realized what words I’d need to get on me to remember them forever.

It hurt a little to get tattooed right on my collarbone—it’s the first of my simple tattoos to actually bleed. But it’s my favourite. I tattooed ‘be good’ on myself so that every t-shirt I wear can show off the reminder to myself; so that everyone who curiously reads it aloud will be reminding me of the same—to be good. Be good. Don’t fight. Stay strong. Be good.

photography // Claire Ward-Beveridge