20.10.11

The backstory on my Shakespeare tatt

As my kids were growing up, I subjected them repeatedly to the great Hamlet monologue, in which Polonius basically does a parenting core dump on his son Laertes. I know that feeling. The kid is on his way out the door. Whatever you feel wobbly about, get it in there now! Truly, it covers everything from doing your laundry on a regular basis to avoiding pre-approved credit cards.

Over the years, my son Malachi and daughter Jerusha got used to the shorthand version: "Be true." That's what I said to them as they went out to the yard to play, over to the pool on bikes, off to college in cars, onward to live their lives.

When Jerusha was eighteen, she had the entire upper third of her back bedazzled with a tattoo of a mechanical bird and an elaborately enscripted "To thine ownself be true." Not exactly where I thought we were going with the sentiment, but it's part of her now, therefore I love it.

When Jerusha left home that fall, I was working on a particularly fractious ghostwriting gig and really struggling with the choice between writing fiction for starving artist wages or ghostwriting for big bucks. She challenged me to do both. We had a long talk about the fact that artistic integrity is not something a project confers upon you, but something you must bring to every project, because it's part of you, as an artist.

She also challenges me to declare my credo in ink, as she had done, so that I could never leave it behind, but the bard would always have my back. I went for significantly smaller acreage and a less familiar image as a template. Frankly, it's not the greatest tattoo art I've ever seen, but I love the primitive Sailor Jerry style, and the artist did a nice job incorporating a small scar and birthmarks. I acknowledge that mother/daughter tatts -- well, it just doesn't get any more trailer-park-fabulous than that, but it's part of me now, as is my imperfect parenting and my inconvenient art, therefore the people who love me love it.

A quick refresher on Polonius' speech to Laertes:
Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

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