Last year I celebrated my fifth year of freelancing (every May 9th I celebrate my freelanceiversary, the day I walked off away from doing 9-5 and to steering my own life). I’ve loved being a freelancer, and it has been a joyful thing.

For the epic fifth year, I wanted to celebrate with a tattoo, but couldn’t budget for it. But for a couple of years, I’d been planning a tattoo. It would be a memento mori, to remind myself of how close I came to death more than once in 2008-2009, and it would celebrate my continued life as a freelancer, and it would also contain a quote that I’d become enamored with that would guide future decisions.

I’ve had a near-pathological fear of needles most of my life, until 2008 when I ended up in and out of hospitals due to the heart defect. So in a way, getting a tattoo in and of itself had a sort of meaning as well.

I couldn’t quite afford the tattoo last year. But this year, the novel retreat I attend every year, that has been so crucial to my growing as a writer, happened to fall on my freelanceiversary. In fact, in 2006, I choose May 9th as my last day of work because I was also leaving for a Blue Heaven workshop.

It all came together. I would get a six year celebration tattoo that I’d been planning for three years. I figured if, after three years, I still thought about, and wanted, the tattoo, that it was something I could safely imagine myself still being psyched about for many years. This was not a quick decision.

So on May 9th, with Cassie Alexander, Jenn Reese, and Ian Tregellis and got the tattoo. I wanted a skull, with a pen and pencil, and the latin for ‘create or die’ underneath.

First things. I went in with a ‘cute’ skull, stylized, almost day of the dead-ish. But after some back and forth with the artist and talking to him, we decided to go with a bit more attitude. And I’m glad I did, most of my friends agree, artist’s skull was cooler.

Secondly, the latin.

Well, I spent three weeks relearning latin. And consulting with friends. And a classicist. There were variations decided upon, and although a grammar purist could argue slightly, I went with a translation I like. If you meet me in person you can see it and talk to me about it.

Here’s a rough idea of the end result though:

Photo on 5 10 12 at 12 16 AM

What was it like?

I was worried the pain would make me chicken out. The artist said it would be an hour. The first ten or so minutes, after that first bite, I kept my game face on. No flinching, focusing on the pain, trying to figure out how long I could handle it.

After that I stopped worrying, starting listening to my friends chat, and joining in. The bits that did get me to bite my lip a bit were close to edge of my arm.

Instead of an hour, that’s what it took for just the outline! Plus another thirty minutes! We paused, and then he went back in for another hour and a half of shading, which again hurt towards the edges of the arm but weren’t too bad. But another hour in the chair was starting to wear on me (I don’t sit still well), and my arm kept falling asleep. That ended up being more painful than the tattooing up to that point.

For the last half hour, he came in with some white for emphasis on the words, and that was when I started to seriously want to get the fuck out of the chair I was in. He was retracing stuff that had been lined, then shaded, and now was back.

It was about three and a half hours, which I wasn’t anticipating. But he really got into his work and was taking his time, and I really love the details on the pencil and pen in particular. I left what I hope was a good tip, and went to dinner, because I was about ready to faint from hunger.

There was a bit of ‘holy shit, did I just do this?’ when in the bathroom washing it off. And then I thought, ‘heck yeah, write more! Create or die!’ when I saw it. And that’s why it’s there. To remind me I survived 08-09, and came out the other side with a lesson I don’t ever want to forget.