“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.” ~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“She said, ‘a tattoo is a badge of validation’. But the truth of the matter is far more revealing. It’s a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.” ~Jimmy Buffett, Beach House on the Moon
“Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix” ~Christina Baldwin quotes
The Arabian-Western phoenix we are all familiar with has a close analogy in Asia. Dating in China from the 11th Century BC, the Chinese Far East Phoenix is known as Fèng Huáng or Feng Huang (鳳凰), and in Japan, the creature is referred to as the Hō-ō (鳳凰) or Hou-ou. The Kanji for “Phoenix” is made up of Feng 鳳 representing the male phoenix, yang and the sun, alongside Huang 凰 representing the female phoenix, yin, and the moon. In Asia, the (female) Phoenix is often portrayed with a (male) dragon, either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers, the duality of roles adopted by couples at varying points in their relationships. Adopted as the symbol of the imperial household, particularly the empress, this mythical bird represents, in general, fire, sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity.
According to legend (mostly from China), the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era — the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears (nesting) only in peaceful and prosperous times, and hides itself when there is trouble. As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō descends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to wait the start of the next, new time.
I am inked, and inked with a Far East Phoenix. My original tat is of origins and impregnation while stationed previously in Okinawa (Japan), with a genesis that took years to finally coalesce (read about it here: Tattoo You? Absolutely). Although my ink is positioned to avoid daily public exposure and consumption (generally speaking), it is also positioned so that I, for often long periods of time, forget about it…as odd as that sounds)…until…someone asks me about it. Or my wife has to scratch that certain spot of my back which happens to coincide with the Phoenix’s tail, which can result in Nirvana (I think everyone should have an itch and spot like this)! Only then is its presence reaffirmed in my psyche, and more often than not, I’m only too happy to share my story (usually abridged, depending on the audience). That’s the whole point of a tattoo, isn’t it? To graphically tell a personal story?
Which brings me to an interesting tangent. How many of you out there know someone who has a rather generic or dare I say “mundane” tattoo? You know the kind I’m talking about: the dolphin on the ankle, or the rose on the shoulder-blade, or worse, some form of Asian kanji writing anywhere on the body…. I bet if you stop and really take stock and inventory, you can come up with at least two or three people, given the popularity of tattooing today. This can be a fascinating insight to these particular people: if one is not going to take great care and great pains on placing permanent art on one’s most personal and irreplaceable canvas, what other areas of life come (and go) so easily?
Worse, think about those people you may know that have a tattoo, maybe an ornate design or some really intricate ambiguous layout where meaning is hard to grasp and any story remains hidden. To me, these make the best kinds of ink, the kind that make people wonder, contemplate, and finally, inquire. But what if that (ink’d) person refuses to tell their story? Why graphically display such symbology if only to keep it locked away inside. I know someone like this – not well and have never asked – but I don’t hesitate to conclude that there isn’t really a story there, at least one with any deeper meaning, and this, in my opinion, is why these types of people with ink hide behind their “art.”
By the way, a word of caution here: after having lived in Japan for my 6th year, and having seen how badly and hilariously English and Japanese can be translated back and forth, please take a moment or three decades to reconsider that kanji character you have so badly been wanting (see here). Or, to make this much more plain, look at how silly pedestrian English words would appear as tattoos on Asians…. ‘Nough said.
But back to MY story surround MY ink. As you may recall from my previous blog on the subject, I was able to successfully translate conflicted and dark feelings into permanent art to adorn my body, initially back in 2005. The biohazard design I ended up selecting symbolized such feelings succinctly, yet in a way that translated directly onto my skin.
The biohazard motif I had settled firmly on held the central idea of man being his own worst enemy, but also could so easily be extended to include those wars, conflicts and smaller upheavals we all find omnipresent in our daily lives. However, what started as a personal yet metaphysical conflict mostly within myself quickly morphed into a wider outside battle at the time my ink started to dry, philosophically speaking, as my marriage was liquefying down the drain. Thus, my original tat became, somewhat on purpose but mostly a result of collateral damage, tied excessively to the pain and suffering of a disintegrating 16 year marriage and 18 year relationship.
And although that original tat did serve as a visible mode of attaining a form and depth of corporeal catharsis, I reached a point in my life where I no longer wanted to forever and always associate the pain of ink with a past marriage which had, in totality, become toxic. Although these memories remain with me today, they certainly all have, at worst, faded, but at best, they have in many cases surrendered to exactly what most feelings are: a contemporary reflection of only a temporal phase of life. So, sometime after divorce in 2006 my consciousness started to almost immediately drift. And finally, in roughly 2010, it had traveled far enough away from my initial viewpoint for me to again seek a change (for the better)…and new transformative ink, on top of the old.
I started to re-research a refreshed approach to morphing my art to something which would better match my now-current story. And that story is a much different story than that told by my ink back in 2005.
I have recovered from emotional devastation of the destruction of a previous marriage, and the bitter betrayal of someone who once was loved and cherished. I have recovered from the financial disaster of divorce and the irresponsible deficit spending that followed; only just this month (January 2014), can I claim once again that I am debt-free, the first time since 2005…although the witch continues to get a portion of my military retirement. I have accepted the tragic loss of my status, influence and proximity as a father to my children during their adolescent years. And, most importantly, I have found the love of my wife, a woman who is truly my equal (except for blogging – WINK!), and who loves me easily and unconditionally the way we all deserve to be loved and equally cherished in life.
So, again, the central question of inking: graphic design! My life has always revolved around flying, literally as long as I can remember. I am a pilot, flew in the military, and continue to skydive today. I also am enamored with myth and legend, particularly when it comes to their symbols and symbolism. I almost immediately thought of integrating a Rising Phoenix into my biohazard symbol to show rebirth, resolution, resolve, and recovery.
In Greek mythology, a phoenix (Ancient Greek φοίνιξ phóinīx) is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun and most likely of Egyptian origin, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. As part of our collective myth and legend in the Western world, the phoenix symbolizes renewal and resurrection. It’s interesting to note that many cultures have formed independent analogues of the Greek/Egyptian phoenix, including those of Persia, India (Hinduism), Russia, Turkey, Tibet, China and Japan.
After toying around with various designs and layouts for about a year, and researching the myth as well as how others had translated such ideas into art, I began my graphics design in earnest. I decided to avoid the more ornate and flowery, colorful phoenix portrays, and instead pursed a more minimalistic tribal style. Finally, when I had narrowed my choices down, and after finding a tattoo artist (and service) I was confident and comfortable with, I was able to finalize the new blueprint. The tattoo artist here was indispensable; knowing both the medium and media, he was able to make some fine tweaks and additional recommendations on transforming my “permanent reminder” to match yet another temporary feeling….
Thus, my artistic upgrade was completed in two phases: the bird itself fencing in the original biohazard tattoo, followed by the flames and biohazard re-treatment which together give rebirth to the creature (and my new lease on life), while subsuming the biohazard symbol itself…along with a tainted past. My new era ensues.
We all need a harbingers to help announce and illuminate new eras throughout our lives, when the old have become stale and cumbersome. Change is the only constant in life, and if you let it, affirmative change can serve as the egg for your very own phoenix. Together, you both can rise from the ashes, no matter how bad you think the destruction may be.
Thankfully for me, my harbinger resides with me, mostly out of sight, but always there in spirit (and the mirror if I really look). And while this permanent tattoo certainly serves my current temporal views and feelings more appropriately today, you may note that the tattoo is offset and asymmetrical, a reflection of the nature of life itself…. BUT, in a more pragmatic sense, because I’m leaving room for an old Far Eastern-influenced tattoo idea that continues to congeal the more time I spend in Asia….
Stay tuned for that development.