Please welcome today’s guest writer, Heather Tills. Heather graduated in 2013 with majors in English and writing alongside a secondary education endorsement. She went on to teach ESL and coach cross country and track at the high school level in Denver, Colorado. This upcoming spring she plans to graduate with a masters in TESL/TEFL and an international development certificate at Colorado State University where she has also worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, teaching undergraduate composition courses.

Our theme for the month of November is “firsts.”

“Like everyone else, I was born naked and screaming, waiting for my life to write itself on my skin.”
– Kat Von D

The opening quote was taken from the autobiography of a woman who is best known for her role on the popular reality show LA Ink. The post you are reading and the tattoo featured in the headlining image were not inspired by her, and yet her words and the story that provoked them illuminate complexities in the act of marking oneself, an act that will be teased out further down on this page.

We will return to that concept soon enough, but first let us begin with a story. As a child, our character was often told that she was a timid and careful girl. Because that’s the way the world saw her, that’s how she learned to see herself. Years echoed on and she was given opportunities to become a specific type of person, to choose a path and build an identity. But, she was not interested in sectioning off her story. Instead, she was drawn to almost anything that allowed her a new way to measure the world, to discover universal truths.

She fell in love with song because it gave voice to the feelings behind life’s experiences. She did not have to know intimately the pain of the world to see its beauty or be marked by tragedy to learn its lessons. Though she was not much of a reader, she was drawn to words because they were the stuff of stories and within each story she would search for hints at the greater common human story. She latched onto pictures because they captured moments in a way that offered them permanency so that the entirety of a person’s existence could be placed one photo after the other in gentle succession to observe the characteristics of life itself.

She made her way through many of the milestones set before her at birth. She graduated from high school and moved on to get a college degree in English, writing, and secondary education. She got her first career job teaching in a new city. She spent her breaks travelling to visit friends and exploring the world. But, soon her routine of protecting herself from experiences she believed could mark her as one type of person became limiting. So, she began what she called her year of firsts. Within that year, she peeled back the layers of who she thought she was with each new experience, replacing nevers with haves and thus adopting a new story of herself that felt uncomfortably permanent and stigmatizing.

Her year of firsts ended and with time she drifted out of some friendships and into others, took an extended break from social media, quit her job, and started grad school. Slowly, she broke away from the songs whose lyrics had massaged their way into her core. She packed up her old library and immersed herself in readings for her graduate program. She cleaned out her photos to make room for new albums. One day, her first love asked her to go with him to get a tattoo and she decided to mark herself with an image of the flower she was named after.

In the autobiography quoted at the beginning of this post, Katherine Von Drachenberg (her birth name), wrote that she views her tattoos as an act of etching her story onto her body in a way that she finds empowering. Yet, many of the experiences that make up the story of her life read much like a dance between what she is given by circumstance and the people who have surrounded her and how she has chosen to respond. The girl featured in this post is still finding her place within life’s dance because she is realizing that in exposing her unique contribution to the world there is much more to be gained than to be lost.

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