Tattoos of Bouchercon. Joe Clifford has an amazing sleeve, as well as other individual tattoos. Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. He is the author of several books, including Junkie Love, Lamentation, and December Boys, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. Here's his guest post!
I was asked by Janet Rudolph—or to avoid the dreaded passive voice, Janet Rudolph asked me—to write a piece about my tattoo for her Mystery Fanfare blog. Since I am between novels, teaching, and editing—a span that lasts about a week—I figure this is a great chance to keep my chops up. Plus, I fucking love tattoos.
Janet and I started talking shop after she stopped by Mystery Mike’s at this year’s Bouchercon, where I was signing with my fellow Oceanview authors. Janet was snapping pics of tattoos—and it’s hard to miss mine, a full, bio-mech sleeve. I was there promoting my latest Jay Porter novel, December Boys. (If you like Jay Porter, you’re in luck; we’ve are contracted for three more. If you hate Jay Porter, you probably would get along with my ex-wives.)
I gave author Rob Hart a testimonial about the significance of the tattoo for an article he published over at Electric Literature. Like I told Rob, the tattoo, which I got when I sold my Jay Porter books, represents a transition in my life.
I live in the Bay Area but hate hippies. Still, it is hard not to have a little hippie sneak in when your father-in-law was on the cover of Newsweek in a loincloth at (the original) Woodstock.
To me, tattoos are biographical footnotes on my life. It’s why I would never, for instance, get a cover-up. Whatever happened happened; nothing can change that. My wife, the lovely Justine—my soulmate and honestly the reason my life stopped sucking—doesn’t necessarily share that point of view.
Justine had asked, politely but firmly, to please please please consider covering up my ex-wives names. (Side note: when Justine and I first started dating, she asked why on Earth I would get a woman’s name tattooed on my body. My response: “There are certain kinds of men who will get a woman’s name tattooed on their body,” I said. “I am that kind of a guy.” That answer seemed to suffice. For a while.)
When the Porter books sold, a lot was happening in my life. I’d met Justine. We’d had our first son, Holden (#2 Jackson Kerouac was still a few years away), I bought a house, and, perhaps most significantly, I knew I was back for good.
In the 1990s I had a slight drug problem. And by “slight,” I mean I was a lowlife, homeless, scumbag junkie. In and out of jail and rehab, I was pretty certain I was going to die there (in between bouts of baseless optimism). If you want to hear more about those wacky adventures, I wrote about it in my first book, Junkie Love.
But for our purposes here, I can say that even after I stopped shooting junk and living that way, there was no guarantee I’d last. Recovery is a rocky road filled with lots of stumbles, falls, and face-plants. When 2010 rolled around, suddenly everything began going right for me, and I knew the years I’d borrowed had been paid back. That’s the thing with addiction, you are borrowing time, and when you hope to turn shit around, just like a bank and credit cards, student loans, whatever, any source of lending, the hands (of time) are first in line to get theirs.
That is what this tattoo represented. A permanent change for the better. Besides making Justine happy and covering up a name, the piece illustrated two parts of me, the organic and the mechanical, who I am, was, and will be, a journey equal parts machine (literally. I was in a bad motorcycle accident; half my body feels like it’s made of metal), and whatever that thing in me is, the good and the bad, the parts of my person that brought me to where I am today. And where I am today is a pretty goddamn good place. I wanted that carved in my skin for the rest of my life. It’s a reminder of the hardships and the promise.
The next Jay Porter book, Give Up the Dead, is out in June 2017. Maybe I’ll get the other arm done up to celebrate its release. Who knows? Tattoos, like drugs, are addictive.
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