Tattoos are almost respectable these days, which is why they’re generating so much positive ink. But getting one still hurts like crazy.

HE TOLD ME TO TAKE OFF MY PANTS AND LIE DOWN. I did. I remember looking at the big clock on the wall above me. I did not know it then, but that first glance was the start of a six-hour relationship with those twelve numbers. At times I stared at it, winced at it, willed its hands to stop what seemed like their backward movement. Other times I looked away, thinking it might speed the process of transforming the skin stretched across the small of my back into a work of art. Had I known my new tattoo would require lying so still for so long, I might have chickened out. But I didn’t know, and neither did the artist, who said he could finish the job in two or three hours. That optimistic prognosis convinced me I could handle it, and so did the distant memory of my first tattoo: a little cow on my right bicep, conceived one morning a decade ago and completed in less than an hour that same afternoon. I recalled that it hurt quite a bit, but also that nearly all of the pain ceased the moment the inking was over.

I was enormously pleased with that tattoo and still am; it’s a measure of my independence and an emblem of my identity. That’s why I got a second one—eventually. It was not a decision I made easily. When I was in my twenties, I pulled all sorts of stunts (odd haircuts, odd piercings) to get attention. But as I got older and had a baby, I began to wonder if maybe enough wasn’t enough. And really, even if I did want attention, was another tattoo the way to go? I got my first one in Hollywood; lots of people had them there. But as soon as I moved to a succession of less self-consciously hip cities, my little cow might as well have been full-sized, real-life, and sitting on my head for all the commotion it caused.

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