I got my first tattoo when I was 20 and had just moved to Austin from El Paso. I was living on my own for the first time ever and I decided that the best way to celebrate my new adulthood (at 20, yeah right!) was to get a tattoo. So I got “odi et amo” tattooed on my lower back. Yes, I got a tramp stamp. But I got it before it became a super popular and cliched area to get a tattoo, plus the tattoo was in Latin so it was INTELLECTUAL.
“Odi et amo” means “I hate and I love” and goes back to a conversation my brother and I had some years before about balance and how to be a good person. He was trying to make me feel better about something, I don’t remember what now, and he was telling me how most people are just human and make mistakes and might do bad things now and then, but the important thing was to do a lot of good things to tip the scale back. He referenced “Odi et amo” and that phrase stuck with me. The tattoo is my symbol of inner balance and it also reminds me of my brother. Plus, I’ve always had a love for, and been fascinated by, Latin so the tattoo seemed appropriate.
Catullus was an ancient Roman who wrote the poem “Catullus 85” where “odi et amo” appears. The poem goes like this….
odi et amo. quare id fasciam fortasse requiris. nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior
There are countless translations online that are all different. Here’s one of them…..
I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask. I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.
I didn’t know this at the time I got the tattoo, nor I think, did Mario know the background when he referenced the phrase years ago, but Catullus wrote this poem around 65BC about his lover, Lesbia. The story has it that she cheated on Catullus over and over which inspired him to write a poem about his conflicting feelings. One website argues that the translation “I hate and I love” is incorrect and that the correct translation is “I loathe her, I lust for her.” which is meant to describe the emotional paradox Catullus felt wherein Lesbia’s infidelity made him physically desire her more while also feeling very negative towards her.
“Catullus 85” is highly regarded for its simplicity and brevity. The structure of the poem has been analyzed a ton over the centuries because Catullus was apparently a genius in the way he structured the words. He used active words “odi” (i hate) to contrast against passive words “excrucior” (I am tortured), “faciam” (I am doing it) to “fieri” (it is being done to me) and so on. When lines are drawn between the contrasting words a cross, or chiasmus, is formed. Apparently the chiastic structure is very difficult to do well and was highly revered.
I didn’t know any of this shit. I just liked the words, I though they were pretty, and like I said before, they reminded me of my big bro. But it was pretty cool to learn all this stuff about the words I had tattooed on my body.
The second tattoo I got I didn’t think through at all. A good ole’ Texas boy I was casually dating when I was 22 wanted to get a skull and crossbones tattooed on his right butt cheek. The boy was really purty but he didn’t have much going on upstairs. Anyway, I was chatting up the tattoo artist and he kinda took to me for some reason and he said, “Look through this one tattoo book, if you find something you like, I’ll give it to you for free right now.” The tattoos in that book were all tiny and most of them were Chinese symbols and butterflies and dolphins jumping over rainbows. I felt so pressured to get SOMETHING because it was a free tattoo but I just wasn’t feeling anything in that book. On the last page were all the Zodiac symbols so I settled to get a Leo tattoo. I had it tattooed right on my waist line just above my right leg. There was no thought behind it, no meaning despite this was some arbitrary symbol assigned to a time when I happened to be born. Plus, I got an allergic reaction to the lotion I was using on it so now the black looks slightly cracked. It’s a small tattoo, and I can mostly ignore it, but I do regret getting it. I wonder how ‘ole country boy feels about the giant skull on his ass these days.
The third tattoo I got here in New Zealand not long ago, as I think most of you know. It’s my most prominent one yet. A mandala tattooed up on my front right shoulder. I got it simply because I thought it was really pretty but also because of the meaning behind it. Mandalas are meant to represent sacred geometry, the belief that there is a science and mathematical structure to everything created in this world. It gives rise to the question of intelligent design. Now I’m not saying I believe in that or anything but I really like the idea of it. I find it to be extremely interesting to think and read about it and it kind of gives me goosebumps. So…the mandala. And there will be more added to that tattoo later on.
In November, when Tom and I go to New Plymouth for the tattoo festival, I’m going to get a bluebonnet tattoo done in the watercolor style on my forearm. Bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas and I’m getting the tattoo done to remind me of home. It’s been a bit of a bitch getting a tattoo artist who will be at the festival to respond to my e-mails asking if had any openings. I even e-mailed a guy from Austin who will be there because I thought it would be kinda cool to have an Austinite give me a bluebonnet tattoo all the way down here in New Zealand. He didn’t bother answering me which makes me wonder if he was thinking, “Go all the way to New Zealand just to do a fucking bluebonnet tattoo?! Hell no!” Either way, I feel like it’s bad business not to respond to me, but a lot of people I contacted didn’t send any response at all.
I’ve finally got a dude from California to agree to do the tattoo. He just sent me a mock up of it yesterday and I kind of hated it. It was really bulky and didn’t have the surreal watercolor element that I’m looking for. My first instinct though was to not hurt his feelings and just say, “Yes, that’s great!” but then I reminded myself that this is going on my body permanently and there’s a nice way to say most things so I wrote back to him and told him what I would like changed. Hopefully he’s able to sort it out. Especially because I did already send him a non-refundable deposit.
Tom hasn’t had the same problems I had. The first tattoo artist he e-mailed him answered him right back. He got booked in, the tattoo is ready to go….done. He’s getting a really awesome lion tattoo done on his forearm. He was toying with the idea of getting a Katrina tattoo. Something kind of along these lines….
And I said, “Hold the fucking phone, have I got the PERFECT tattoo for you!”
He didn’t go for it. I missed what I believe to be my one chance to be immortalized in a tattoo.
Sometimes I question the depth of Tom’s love.