My Tattoo

I have many blueprints for tattoos: festina lente in a small roman italic on my right wrist, two crossed rings around the circumference of my left forearm for my passed mother and father, an anchor on my right ankle (that ship has sailed), a small mockingbird on my right tricep, crossed arrows through the calf. Others, too, which I have forgotten. Planning tattoos was a way to be embodied while lost in thought and, if I am honest with myself, my mind’s way to flirt with a mundane, safe danger. This is not a good reason to do anything.

Most of my friends have tattoos. Thoughtful and thoughtless (usually both kinds on the same body) in suggestive and mundane placements that announce themselves as statements and conceal themselves with symbolism. Every tattoo, in some way, is a secret to tell. The question always comes: What does it mean? “When the secret is exposed, we look away. When the secret is hidden we try to see it.” So says Mary Ruefle, who does not have any tattoos, but cloaks herself in symbols by writing poems. In some way, we all dress in symbols, and bask in the glow of knowing what they mean. We are in on the secret, because we invented the secret.

But it is too late for a tattoo, because I have fallen in love with the wrong thing. I would rather wonder about having a tattoo than have a tattoo. I do not want the permanence or the mark—I want to be committed to a secret. What does it mean?

Frank Chimero illustrated portrait

Frank Chimero is a designer and writer based in New York City. For the past 15 years, he’s worked at his tiny design studio, Frank, with a few years away to co-found Abstract.

Frank has a newsletter.

Frequent enough to be enjoyable.
Rare enough to be a pleasant surprise.

Frank is a design studio.

Visit the portfolio to see recent projects.

The Shape of Design is a book.

Buy a copy or read online.
The Shape of Design Cover.