I have a book tattoo. Well, actually, I have two book tattoos, but this is about the one that is literally a book.
It is supposed to be my Joan Didion tattoo, and there will eventually be a quote under the book. I can only sit for ten minutes at a time so I got the book done first and intended to get the quote soon after. That was in December. The quote I originally wanted to use is “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I still like that one, but now Didion’s nephew is making a documentary about her with that name so my tattoo is starting to feel like product placement.
Recently, I decided to get off the fence about the quote and just chose one. I reread “Why I Write” and considered “what I want and what I fear,” which is a reference to being a writer. I said aloud to my cats, “Do I have the guts to pick that one?” They had no response. Silence is a cat’s way of being supportive.
I also skimmed “On Keeping a Notebook,” which was one of the first Didion essays I ever read and one that still rattles around my mind. My favorite Didion quote is from this piece. It goes “the impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself,” but that’s a bit unwieldy for the space I’ve allotted. I could just use “the impulse to write things down…” Writing is an impulse I’ve always had. Sometimes it manifests as a to-do list or doodles of my cats’ names, and sometimes it’s a story or a blog post about my book tattoo.
Then I realized that both of these quotes are about writing. I had originally conceived this tattoo as being about reading. This year has largely been about reading for me; even though I imagined that I would be spending all this extra free time that I have writing, I’ve mostly been reading. I sit down to write and I feel blocked. I sit down to read and I feel free.
Maybe I’ll leave the tattoo as is. This way, it is about books in general and encompasses both reading and writing. Books are one of my original loves. I’ve loved books and cats for as long as I can remember. Maybe I should turn my tattoo thoughts toward the cat tattoo I keep promising myself.