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My First Tattoo

I’ve meant to write for years. I love the power that writing gives to our thoughts - the ability to speak to people you’ve never met, to learn from prior experience, to know more than your personal experience, and, at its best, to know a person without ever meeting them. The ability to accumulate knowledge beyond ourselves is the basis for society, and in some sense the printing press was the birth of the nation-state (and other terrible things like the Protestant Reformation).

I didn’t start writing sooner because on any given day, at any given moment, what I had to say didn’t feel worth sharing. But still I read many works, and knew that those writers were just people like me. On reflection, I feel my lack of sharing made my life poorer and perhaps other lives poorer as well. All writing is in some way caused by hubris - that what I write, you will want to read. I can only write and hope that it will be worth your attention.

I’m a technologist because while technology is at best neutral, it is undoubtedly a powerful force. From stone cutters to fire to gardens to fences to buildings to roads to seaports to phones to the web, there’s a tension of separation, time, and understanding. Sometimes it’s easier to crush a skull to get your food than it is to find your own food. But perhaps better tools would make more food. We all have a choice, whether we make it or not, to be a positive or negative force in the world. I want to be a positive force. The best tool I have to project force is tech. I’ve always considered myself fortunate that software is in demand just now - that I can do things that matter while also making a living – unlike artists or, increasingly, teachers. I like to imagine, though, that I’d still be a developer even if I couldn’t make a good living at it.

The first time I thought to ask a tattooed person why they had their tattoo, I was surprised at how personal the answer was - how hard it was for me to relate to, how careful the explanation was, how odd it seemed to me that they would want to broadcast such a personal thing. (The person had a single numeral in bold form.)

There are some truly terrible tattoos out there, but this wasn’t one of them. This was just a thing I didn’t understand, but at least… I could respect the motive.

I like tattoos now. Good ones, anyway - ones that are thoughtful, or good art, or at least intentional. Years have passed since that conversation; I’ve grown to fully understand the desire to publish in a personal and permanent way some signature of yourself that you fully control – something beyond the meaty vessel you fill. Even so, I couldn’t see anything I felt represented me - something I was sure I’d agree with in 30 years. I’m only (only?) 36, but there have been many things in my life that I might have guessed were permanent, but truly weren’t. This doubt - about what might be permanent, personal, true - has been a central thing in my life. Not just about tattoos, but about what I should be, what I could be.

"Knowledge is progress"

I’m done with that. I’m not sure exactly what form it will take yet, but I’m getting my first tattoo. And it will only be as permanent as me.

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