“Take a look at this,” I say. I hold up a photocopy of a drawing of a young, tattooed Hawaiian man from 1778.
Half his handsome face is covered with tattoos and he sports a Mohawk. “My son’s hair looks exactly like that.”
The ladies laugh. There are two tables and a total of eleven of us retired-aged women. We are piecing together facets of our souls in a SoulCollage class at the Keaau Senior Center (minimum age 55, so I’m 3 years qualified), cutting images out of magazines and gluing them onto 5”x7” pieces of cardboard.
We are making personalized decks of cards for ceremonial drawing at a later time. Like drawing Tarot Cards.
One of the women didn’t hear me say “hair” and is clearly shocked that I’d have such a thoroughly tattooed son.
“Your son?” she says, and I reassure her that he is still untattooed. Although most young people in Hawaii seem to have at least one. Maybe it’s just more obvious because more skin shows here.
It makes me think. Wonder what I’d get if I were to get one.
Everyone is still listening as they cut and paste. Lovely music plays softly in the background from the teacher’s tape player, and we can hear the ceramics class next door, through the huge screens, wedging and slapping clay.
I look at the image. 236 years ago, this young man sat proudly for Captain James Cook’s artist, John Webber.
In the book I photocopied, the author wrote about how fascinated the famous captain and his officers were with the differences between the curvilinear patterns of the New Zealand Maoris and the strict linear patterns of the Hawaiians. This confident young man had status, the book said. They cut the designs into the skin and rubbed vegetable dye or soot or squid ink over the wounds.
Since we moved to Hawaii nine months ago, I’ve introduced myself a lot. What do I do? Who am I? A writer? A baker? A candlestick maker? Much of my time lately is spent with my new gas (propane) stove, the nicest stove I’ve ever had (I’ve always had electric), baking cookies and muffins.
Still, identifying myself stressed me until this last week when I asked the Bearded One, who has no tattoo and has never had one whit of trouble identifying himself to the world, how he answers the question. Who wants to know? he said. And that was an epiphany right there. The question is about the questioner! Not me. It’s about who I am at this moment, the relevant stuff with this particular person, and finding the connection between us.
“Facial tattoos scare me,” I say to my classmates. “The other tattoos are a fine way to mark and identify yourself, but I don’t like needles, thankyouverymuch.” Nods of agreement all around the table.
“As to what I’d get if I were inclined – a labyrinth”.
The Labyrinth Lady – a lovely, tall, red-haired 60-year-old woman, who also happens to be the Soul Collage teacher – smiles as she walks by. She bought an acre lot a half mile from the ocean almost twenty years ago. She told me she was obsessed with life’s paths. It took three months of full-time labor, but, by herself, she built a magnificent Chartres Labyrinth.
She opens it to the public frequently, and I was invited to join the group who weeds it and then walks it together every week.
The rules of walking the labyrinth and cutting and pasting images are similar. You don’t have to be silent. You can crack a joke. You can stop and smell the flowers or examine a plant or straighten a fallen-over statuette or chime. You just walk the path. With respect. It’s not a maze. It’s a circular, spiral path looping and layering back and forth yet all the while progressing toward the center.
“That speaks to me,” one of my labyrinth friends says, pointing to two images that I’ve just cut out of magazines and glued onto cardboard – a stained glass church window and a witchy Wonder Woman in a blue bikini and stained-glass blue body paint.
I smile and keep gluing until the Labyrinth Lady announces break time. Then I haul out my bag. “Cookies!” I say, and lay them out for my new friends. We can all think about it, I suppose, but for now we are still untattooed.