Jessica Gordon’s “inspire”

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“I wanted a tattoo for years, something tangible that symbolized where I came from and what I’d accomplished throughout my life. Often I forget that I have come farther than I ever dreamed I would as a child, and I constantly put pressure on myself to do more, go farther, extend beyond the limits, no matter what. There are times, too, when a bout of depression takes hold and it becomes very easy to lose myself. I thought with a tattoo there would be a permanent mark grounding me into my own skin, a tether to find my way out of the dark thoughts in my mind and back home.

When I saw the word ‘inspire’ in Love Letter To the World, I knew that word and those star shapes would go somewhere on my body. Inspiration has kept me alive. I’m inspired by novels, music, my teachers, the people I love, and the world I live in, every day. To have my tattoo be a part of that world, a part of something bigger than myself … I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise.

However, I wanted to add my own symbols, to show what inspired me personally. Dogwood flowers, a treasured part of spring in Kentucky, brought me such joy every year when they blossomed. By association, I tie them in with all that is Kentucky, including the family and friends I left behind when I moved to Japan. Since I live in Japan, I decided to also include sakura (cherry blossoms), as they parallel dogwood flowers in that both bloom in spring. I consider sakura a representation of my new life, with new friends and new adventures on this side of the world. Finally, I researched very hard to find a perfect translation for ‘inspire’ into Japanese kanji. This part was a bit tricky, as some Japanese kanji don’t translate so well into Chinese characters, and vise versa. I ended up going with kobu (鼓舞), for it is considered a ‘classical’ kanji in that it hasn’t changed from the Chinese reading.

Japan continues to inspire me, and yet I was warned away from getting a tattoo here in Japan. People are banned from onsens (public hot spring baths), beaches, public swimming pools, gyms, and many other places for having a tattoo. The belief that ‘only criminals have tattoos’ has persisted despite the growing interest in tattoos and more young people getting inked. I was told to get something small, that I would want something smaller anyway as it was my first one.

And then McKay, my tattoo artist, showed me the sketch based on my ideas. I knew I needed that picture on me, on my leg! More determined than ever, I lay down for over four hours and healed over the course of three weeks. Now every time I see my tattoo in the mirror, I feel pride for daring to do it, despite the clash against social norms. I feel that now I have a new goal, to inspire my students the way I’ve been inspired. Another benefit is that even on the weeks when my energy drops to nothing and I cry every afternoon after work, I can just look down and tell myself how I’m stronger than I ever was before, and the proof is right there.

I’m a part of the love letter to the world, the one who inspires and is inspired.”