I, Amy Guth, have a tattoo and it is delightfully writerly. And, like any good tattoo, there is a backstory. A question I’m often asked is, “Did you always want to be a writer?” The answer is yes and the answer is also: I have always written. It wasn’t that I wanted to grown up one day and begin writing. Nay. It was instead the case that as soon as I knew how to write, I began to do so.
Meticulously, I drew out columns and hand-lettered the epic breaking news,
you understand, of the household, the extended family, reviewed the
television shows we watched, commented upon the gossip in the
neighborhood, the little dramas of my neighborhood playmates and the
snippets of conversations I heard from adults. Every week, if memory
serves, I drew out this labor of love by hand and pencil, edition by
edition, until, that is, the day came when I was presented with a small
The industrial revolution in my one-person newsroom was on.
With technology at my disposal, the columns and commentary, the essays
and breaking news pieces, all came faster, and what took a week then
took a day, then an afternoon. And as I tapped out my small life on my
small typewriter, characters and settings from bedtime stories–
elaborate serial fictions created by my father to negotiate an
over-enthusiastic child into sleep– began to come to mind and soon my
little newspaper published fiction, too.
Fast forward to early
2007, with one novel rounding out at six-months since release, another
waiting patiently on my MacBook (and external hard drive, and archived
in my email; I’m no fool), three more in various draft stages, I wanted
a symbol. Not a symbol of accomplishment, for that isn’t my style at
all, but a symbol of recognizing the various items in a life’s work, of
seeing progress in the lifelong tasks. It was the typewriter. It wasn’t
the object that delivered me, it was the tool I used as I shaped things
for myself. I didn’t work for it; it worked for me and by me and
because of me. For, the day I started to use the typewriter, the thing
I felt so compelled to do took a more polished form and stepped into
So this is my writerly tattoo, of my typewriter, originally photographed with writer/editor Lynn Brewer
who bears lines from a Sylvia Plath poem, Lady Lazarus, on her
shoulderblade. We knew a photo opportunity dangled before us and
pressed our shoulders together to document the literary symbols we
documented on ourselves.
I showed you mine, now show me yours.
Let’s see your literary tattoos, people. Got links to your literary
body art? Leave them in the comments section below. Better still, if
you, readers dear, are in Chicago and have a literary tattoo, or are
anywhere with a Chicago literary tattoo (surely someone, right?) I encourage you to share it in this Chicago Literary Tattoo flickr pool, which I, being one to practice what I preach, started with the above pic of my own tattoo.
And for those merely toying with a literary tattoo, I offer inspiration: The very bold. Alice In Wonderland (and a torso). A beautiful tattoo-nod to Slaughterhouse-5. The surprisingly useful infinite alphabet.
Ready? Set? Let’s see your literary ink.