When Montgomery Gentry posited in 1999 that “tattoos and scars are different things,” it was to argue that scars had a deeper, truer meaning. Two characters in the song are interacting, a young man who insists he’s “older than you think” and an old man who retorts “you ain’t seen what I’ve seen.” This song popped into my head this morning. I was sitting in my office preparing for another day of attempting to teach the fine points of academic writing to college freshmen.
I have six tattoos. In my professional life, I’ve wavered between working hard to conceal my true identity to seem more “academic” and almost defiantly showing my true colors, those reds, greens, blacks, grays, blues, and oranges symbolizing milestones in my life. Like the young man in the song, I feel that these works of art represent a part of me, they show where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, but in a bright and colorful way. Three, visible with low collars and short sleeves, represent my children.
I also have many, many scars, some more visible than others, some quite psychological. If I were to wear the gluteus-hugging short-pants common to many women’s fashion during summers in warm states of America, one could clearly see, drawing accusatory white lines across my bared thighs, scars which will never tan. I once was prone to self-harm, and perhaps still am, though more in the sense of harsh words and excess calories.
Why would I ponder such things while preparing for a class today? My students will start work on the argumentative research essay today, the one essay type insisted upon by my university’s standard curriculum, and I was feeling self-conscious. You see, in spite of the best efforts of my tight budget and helpful friends, I don’t seem to have enough conservative outfits to wear to work. Also, it’s summertime; I reside in Texas and work in Louisiana, which means it is downright sweltering.
I chose a 3/4 sleeved shirt today which is somewhere between transparent and translucent, covering a tank top, which in turn covers my bra. The sleeves keep riding up, and the collar keeps slipping down. Even if everything stayed properly in place, one might begin to suspect that the images, distorted by fabric and blue-hue as they were, were indeed a part of my skin rather than a part of the blouse.
Of course, it’s likely that my students neither noticed or cared about my tattoos or my invisible and hidden scars, confronted as they were with my female facial hair I’m at constant war with myself about whether to accept or reject. It’s also likely that even that didn’t matter. Standing in front of them, an alleged authority on all things English, they likely only or at least mostly focused on learning or at least memorizing for as long as necessary the lessons I was trying to teach.
It is interesting that my professional life and home life differ so very greatly. At home, I am relaxed, open, caring, comfortable. I work hard at being the nicest person I can be, and at apologizing profusely when if I fail at that. I aspire to be gentle towards my children, even when they make mistakes. I am learning better ways to parent and to help my children learn both academically and in life. I am practicing a method of parenting and homeschooling which isn’t accepted widely by the people I’m surrounded by in my daily home life, though. At work, at least in front of my class, I’m outwardly confident, bold, assertive. At home, around other adults, I’m self-conscious, careful, meek.
I’m working on healing those scars.