All posts by Aidan Currie

Deputy News Editor 2017–2018 Associate Features Editor 2016–2017

My tattoos, my stories

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]attoos have always interested me. Growing up, I was fascinated by the colours and designs that covered peoples’ bodies. I began to see myself in each person I saw with tattoos, be it on television or in pictures, as I dreamed that one day I would have my own to show off. The image I had of myself, the version I wanted to present to the world, was brooding and quiet — a mysterious guy in the corner who was dangerous yet attractive.

Admittedly, the first time I saw a tattoo in person, I thought it was stupid. My friend’s older brother had a ‘1-Up’ symbol from the Super Mario Bros. games on his forearm. But now, years later, I’ve come to realize that I probably shouldn’t judge him for it.

I contemplated getting tattoos for at least five years before finally deciding to get one on my left forearm and one on my right tricep at the same time shortly after turning 18.

Looking back three years later, I didn’t quite achieve the aesthetic I was going for. I have the tattoos, but at age 21, I’m only brooding and quiet 10 per cent of the time. I’m generally loud, smiley, and downright flamboyant. Not exactly the way I thought I would end up, but my tattoos have become a part of my story and literally part of who I am physically.

“Make it mean something”

The first time I told my mother I wanted tattoos, she laughed and told me I could go to the tattoo parlour when I no longer lived under her roof. “Fair,” I recall my 13-year-old self saying. This became our routine: me asking if I could get tattoos, and her giving the same response.

My parents separated when I was 14; my father and I didn’t get along. When they separated, I decided it would be a great idea to exploit this strained relationship and try to manipulate my mother into letting me get a tattoo. I told her that my father, who wasn’t around, would let me get a tattoo and pay for it.

“Go for it,” she replied, toying with me because she knew there was no way I’d do anything with my father. She was right.

I dropped the subject for a couple of years. Close to my 18th birthday, I asked my mum again, expecting the same answer I had received years prior. “Make it mean something,” she said.

As I had grown older, I guess she figured I had enough life experience to choose something that I’d want to look at 50 years down the road. I thought long and hard about what I wanted and decided on two symbols that I felt were representative of me.

 

Sitting in a parlour, trying not to scream

I was standing outside of a tattoo parlour in my hometown, just steps away from where I’d taken swimming lessons as a kid. I felt this was my coming-of-age moment, and I was unable to resist the urge to juxtapose kid-me to adult-me.

I headed into the parlour with my designs in hand and met with Phil, the artist who did my tattoos. We talked about the designs and what they meant to me, and he stenciled them onto my skin. He had to redo the one on my right tricep, a symbol called an awen, which means ‘poetic inspiration,’ because he had stenciled it upside-down thinking it was supposed to represent an explosion. That would’ve been cool, but I’m still glad I caught it in the mirror before we got started. The tattoo on my left forearm is an Aquarius symbol, two zig-zagging lines meant to symbolize waves.

I expected pain. I expected to be incredibly uncomfortable, but when Phil started on my first tattoo, it wasn’t that bad. I got cocky thinking everybody who had ever complained about getting a tattoo was a baby and that I was impervious to pain. Boy, was I wrong.

As he moved to the inner part of my arm, a jolt of pain seemed to run through my entire body and left me seeing stars — I thought I was going to pass out. I got nauseous and had to take a break. Everyone was telling jokes to keep me laughing.

Three hours later, I was finally a tattooed man. I felt on top of the world. Sitting in the chair was awful, but afterward was indescribable. There was something about being prodded with a series of tiny needles thousands of times that left me invigorated. I could have climbed a mountain if it weren’t for the bruising on my arms leaving me essentially helpless. I’ve never had a high like that since, so I understand why people might get addicted to tattoos.

I went home and showed my mother the new additions to my body once I was allowed to take my bandages off. Tattoos had become our inside joke, and my mother, not one to get emotional, simply told me that I had better not regret either of them. I don’t.

Body positivity

Ask any of my older relatives and they will tell you that tattoos are for sailors and criminals. It took a long time to convince my mother that having tattoos wouldn’t affect my family’s perception of me. I wasn’t allowed to wear short-sleeved shirts around my grandparents for about a year for fear of judgement.

My tattoos are an outward expression of who I am. I felt awkward having to hide them — a part of myself that I not only wanted to share with the world in action but display on my body for all to see. As a teen, I wasn’t especially confident in myself; I was anxious, lonely by choice, and I allowed my insecurities to control my life. Looking back, my tattoos were my way of reclaiming myself, making my body my own, and showing off.

I’m not ashamed of my tattoos, and neither is my family. It’s a bit of a joke now — they often poke fun at my Aquarius tattoo, because to them it was obvious that I would have gotten such a ‘basic’ tattoo and that I embody all the personality traits of an Aquarius, whatever that means, but that’s okay, I love them anyways. Maybe someday I’ll convince my mother to get a tattoo with me. Maybe.

Every time I experience something meaningful, I want to honour it by putting it on my body. Some of my tattoo ideas are basic, like getting a diamond on my chest. Some are downright stupid, like getting a pizza slice on my forearm.

No matter what they are, though, I want my tattoos to say: ‘I am who I am, and that’s pretty cool.’

Non-library study spots at UTM

This year marks the 50th anniversary of UTM’s opening. What began as a single-building campus called Erindale College is now the second-largest campus at U of T. Its rapid growth from 155 students in 1967 to 13,500 undergraduates in 2017 strained a number of aspects of student life, including the ability to find available study spaces on campus.

Luckily, with three new buildings opening in the last six years with study spaces integrated in their design, it’s become easier to find a place to sit down and hit the books. Thankfully, there are finally more options than just the library.

Deerfield Hall

ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

Opened in 2014, Deerfield Hall boasts conference rooms that hold 8–24 people, as well as lecture halls and classrooms available to book for those times when you want to study with 100 of your closest classmates. The main level has a mix of individual and communal study spaces, and the Northside Bistro is only a few steps away. 

Instructional Centre

ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

 

The Instructional Centre has collaborative and private study spaces, as well as a computer lab and 500-seat auditorium. There’s a small computer lab area on the second level and casual seating on the main level, if you don’t mind working in noisier environments. The building has a geothermal heating and cooling system, a green roof, a rainwater system, and is run on solar power energy. Its relaxed atmosphere should provide you with the peace of mind to get through your paper.

Innovation Complex

ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

Home to multiple offices, departments, and units, including the Office of the Registrar, the Innovation Complex opened in 2014 and was partially funded by a $10 million investment over 10 years by the City of Mississauga. The main rotunda is always bustling with students, but it’s a great place to meet with others for collaborative work in one of the more unique spaces on campus. Study breaks can include stepping into the Blackwood Gallery across the hall to engage with contemporary art, or grabbing a drink and snack at Second Cup.

Growing up and getting out

I was 12 the first time I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Sitting in my grandparents’ living room, my Grampy asked if I had seen the film. I answered with a disinterested “No” and turned back to my daydreaming. Before I could protest, my grandparents had put the DVD in and pressed play. I was stuck — an afternoon with an old movie and older people.

I’m happy to say that at the end of the 103 minutes, I had fallen in love with the movie. Ferris Bueller was simply fantastic, an unabashedly confident and brazenly carefree person who acted first and thought second. He was everything I wanted to be.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” is a well-known and well-loved quote from the movie.

My favourite, though, comes from the beginning of the film: “A person should not believe in an -ism. He should believe in himself.” For some reason, that offhand comment made by a charming, cocky, fictional kid resonated with me.

I had a difficult time believing in myself up until that point in my life. As hard as I tried to be like Bueller, I still found it difficult to muster the courage to believe in myself, which, in turn, had a detrimental effect on my wellbeing.

For as long as I can remember, I had a problem with loneliness. Up to and including twelfth grade, I would usually eat alone at school, preferring the company of my thoughts to my peers. When I did venture out to try and make friends, I was met with skepticism and faced almost unbearable teasing.

At an early age, I had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, which basically means that if I see a group of people whispering, I immediately jump to the conclusion that they are talking about me. This was pure torture for a kid who didn’t really have any friends as it was.

There was one incident that happened during a lunch break in fourth grade. I was sitting alone near the baseball diamond, which was used for kickball mostly, when I looked up to see a group of maybe 10 of my classmates watching me from the opposite side of the field. I paid them no mind. I got up from my spot and walked around for a while, kicking whatever pine cones I could find and minding my own business. I remember turning around to see an even larger group of students following me, which seemed suspicious and, quite frankly, scared me to death.

My pace quickened, as did my classmates’, until I found myself trapped between two portables with no exit. As my peers closed in, I frantically searched for an escape, then sat down and began to cry, accepting the fact that I was about to get my ass kicked — I was trapped.

I kept telling myself all those years that I would get out someday, but time and time again, every minor success was followed by an epic letdown. It seemed that no matter what I did or how hard I tried, it was never enough and I would always be the lonely, weird kid that couldn’t talk to anybody, nicknamed ‘spaz’ for good measure.

I couldn’t believe in anything, let alone myself. That dream of being charming and too cocky for my own good, like Bueller, faded and died.

It took a few more years for things to start getting better. Thanks to puberty and a mother who pushed me to play sports and grow big, I wasn’t bullied as often, but I still felt alone. I felt like I still wasn’t good enough to have friends and maybe it wasn’t worth the effort to try to be happy or successful, because it was all going to fall apart anyway.

I felt like Cameron Frye, Bueller’s best friend, who just needed a push from his best friend to get him out of his own head. Only, I didn’t have a best friend.

At my lowest points, I was crushed and broken ­— a shell of the person I wished I could be. With no friends, no motivation, and an ego in constant flux, I pondered my existence, waiting for something to change.

Spending the time and making the effort to understand my mental health helped me overcome my fear of being alone. I decided to improve myself and not let my anxiety get the best of me anymore. Nobody needed to help me — I could be my own Bueller.

It has taken some time, but I can safely say that I’ve Bueller-ified myself to the point where I’m proud of who I am. I’m an unabashedly confident, brazenly carefree person. I pursue my dreams with unbridled positivity and determination.

I accept myself, as well as others, with open arms. I am no longer afraid to let people in, and I know now that I am worthy of having friends.

I believe in myself.

Sure, there are definitely days where I feel alone. There are times when I revert back to the kid I once was, scared of what people may think of me — but that can be a good reminder. Without that kid, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Without those experiences, I don’t think I could have made it to the point where I believe in myself wholeheartedly. I am comfortable with feeling alone at times, but I truly know that I’m not.