I like clean, even lines. Preferably, black. Symmetrical boxes, rectangles if necessary. The base pattern has to have at least four vertices, and can’t be too complex. I prefer greyscale, but I guess other colours will do- so long as its dual-tone only.
My sister prefers a lot of colour. And by a lot, I mean a lot. Colours that aren’t necessarily complimentary- she loves things to clash (her favourite oxymoron – “a pleasant clash”). Abstract shapes and plenty of light, things that pop. She says those are the things that make you feel but also make you think. I prefer to do each of those in separate time, so I tend to stick to my boxes.
If I stretch far enough, I can remember a time when I preferred curves to edges. I smoothed acrylic paints on canvasses in swirls, because I loved the way a paintbrush effortlessly glides that way. (also, I knew I couldn’t paint a straight line.) I hated when my mother bought square plates for the house. I desperately wanted a globe for my seventh birthday, so I could spin it with one palm and watch the blue and green blur to rainbow, stop it with one finger and not know if I’d land or sink that day. My sister wanted a Rubix cube: the opportunity to arrange boxes by colour, in clear order. Nothing blurry, nothing mixed. But I thought edges were sharp and circles were elegant- you could end up back where you started without needing to turn a corner. (That is why I preferred running track to the lane pool, more or less.)
We switched at the Grid. The Grid- where numbers and figures made so much sense and the beauty of science was so clearly spelled out for me. The Grid- where I could neatly organize what I liked PER box, no matter how curved the contents of each box. The Grid- a system for sorting and stacking, because I had a few too many tangential thoughts and needed to organize them into one big picture. Around the same time that I learned I could use a flat iron to smooth out the dense black curls on my head, I found I could use the grid to tame the mess of ideas in my head. I liked the consistency, the finality of black lines, and found myself using less colour. (Acrylic paints are both expensive, and messy.)
To my sister, the Grid was a maze. The corners were excruciating. The girl who loved order so much found that she hated the rigidity, needed space to breathe. My black lines bored her. Metaphorical lines too- rules were made to be broken, right?
Thanks to the Grid, my paints dried up and I routinely buy Sharpies (black) instead. (for those who don’t know, the natural smell of Sharpie is highly addictive). My sister dyes her hair red or purple or something else and writes me (obviously) non-linear poetry. On the outside- we don’t resemble each other. It’s irrelevant. Under the Grid and our preferences- we understand each other.
Quentin Tarantino, Preface to the Screenplay of True Romance (’95)
“So why do you have a snake on your arm?”
Standard question, if I’m sitting near anyone remotely new to my life and wearing short sleeves. Sometimes its accompanied by “lol are you a death eater?”, to which I am forced to acknowledge the reference but gently insist I’m not the type of person to get a Harry Potter themed tattoo.
There’s a short answer as well as a long answer, but most of the time I respond with “basically I just liked how it looks.” At this point I get “oh, that’s cool…” alongside raised eyebrows that spell out “lol, this girl is basic affffff.” To be fair, it is a pretty graphic; a geometric snake made up of smooth, black lines (both curved, and straight).
If anyone cared to ask the type of snake, they’d find out it’s a black mamba (to me, anyways- I’m hazy on the zoology of snakes). The story goes like this- we found a baby black mamba in the pit latrine. Yours truly, having exiled self to a phoneless existence for two months, watches movies to pass the time. The film for that day was Kill Bill: Volume 1, early 2000s blockbuster regarding female empowerment and revenge or something to that effect, starring Uma Thurman as protagonist Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba. Some days later Liv falls ill, hallucinates being bitten by mamba (has obviously not, at this point, been bitten by mamba). Experiences strong female moment to ensure rehydration of colleague. Liv recovers, mamba is never seen again.
Someone once told me that I “have a good tattoo aesthetic.” This was a great moment in my life, as despite the fact that (as any tattooed person will tell you) I always refrain from judging others tattoos as I’d want no one to judge mine, having a ‘tacky’ tattoo aesthetic is one of my worst fears.
Superficiality aside, my tattoos do carry personal meaning (as most people will tell you, though they may not care to tell you the meaning). And though meaning shifts with time and experience and new knowledge, one of my favourite things about tattoos is how they act as timestamps. They serve as little (or big…) reminders of what was important or relevant to us at a given point in time, and force you to remember that part of you for better or for worse. To that end, I think permanent body art does enforce some type of personal accountability- not only in a very literal sense to the choices you make about your body, but in a broader sense to the value judgements you make throughout your life.
Back to QT and Uma Thurman.
In my first year of uni, at least half of my friends were film majors. I never took a film class, but I’d tag along to the screenings for their classes, since these always prompted some type of large discussion at dinner or drinks afterwards. This was, as it were, my first major exposure to analysing film (I liked science and boxes, remember?) and I did learn a lot. I recall at least half of the year was devoted to learning about the role of the (largely male) auteur in film, and so through this and wanting to keep up with my new college pals I got a rudimentary, patchwork understanding of 20th century film.
One perfect example of the auteur-muse relationship was illustrated by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman. When the class watched Miramax’s Pulp Fiction, practically the entire campus was in attendance. No one talked. Just as the co-chairman of Miramax described the script- it is enthralling to watch, even if you have no idea what you are watching. Thurman (muse) puts on a brilliant performance in Tarantino (auteur)’s plot. It’s funny and thoughtful and violent in a dark and weirdly sexy way, and so of course naturally, easily captured the attention of a roomful of newly minted teenage scholars. I once read that one of the best ways to engage someone is to make them feel smart- this is something Tarantino has mastered in his films, in apparently making the audience feel good about their own moral ideals.
Plot of Tarantino movies aside (I really do like them all, I will admit), I thought Uma Thurman was amazing. She was beautiful, smart, and her characters were dynamic even without saying too much. When I watched Kill Bill I liked her even more, Beatrix Kiddo was the epitome of tragic hero-cum-kickass woman taking care of herself. I could accept the violence for her cause, in fact I think by the end of both volumes I was more or less desensitized (QT denies such a phenomenon can occur).
A close friend of mine told me that watching the Kill Bill movies at a young age was horrifying and not that great of a time. Retrospectively, I do see his point.
Tarantino’s approach to violence is as follows: it can be (and is) aestheticized, ridiculed, and reduced to its rawest form as the trigger for action. This is how violent sequences play out: as an action-reaction-action circuit that is so over the top that you more or less forget the acts themselves, and focus on the underlying motives of the characters (or so you think by the end of it all, anyways). In reality: the fork to the face scenario (ie. domestic violence) is reduced to an inevitable escalation of tension, your reaction to it becomes inconsequential because anything you do will be, by time-bound definition, a “resolution” for the narrative. It will be “outrageous” no matter which way you react. And so therefore, there is no “correct” way to react. Despite a claim to a very specific type of morality being inherent to aestheticizing violence, it is quite possible that it only leads to a melancholy state of detachment and passivity towards all things gruesome (ie. describing abuse as “comic-bookish”). When you like the picture as a whole, it becomes difficult to admit if there are pieces you don’t like. Doing that would, of course, have a catastrophic and deleterious effect on the whole thing. The idea that we need violence in our art to understand ourselves better seems absurd- because it positions violence as inevitable, normal, not necessary to question.
In a practical sense, the revolutionary argument for outright violence is as follows: “violence makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.” – Frantz Fanon, Caribbean psychotherapist.
Fanon died in 1961 of leukeumia. Ultimately, his argument supported a proletariat uprising in African states, expecting that the best route to political reform was for “uneducated fringe groups” to lead violent revolution. (Fast forward just a bit- unsure if this argument was entirely well supported.) The justification of violence as an inevitable act for the greater good is engrained in how we think, interact, and consume everything happening around us.
Uma Thurman told us, recently, that she doesn’t like to speak when she’s angry*. She finally broke her silence, and revealed the dark undertone to her auteur-muse relationship. For the greater good (amazing, total hit movies), she endured pain and silence. And often, we all do- because we prefer a linear narrative to highlighting and cutting out the things we know are cancerous.
Beatrix Kiddo is still one of my favourite characters. Though the movie is usually read as a violence-filled crusade of redemption and revenge, to me the non-linear narrative always seemed more about survival. She fights, she kills, yes- but only so she can cut out the cancers in her life, and move on to more peaceful, blood-free pastures- where she no longer fights or kills.
As a group, we like to collect boxes and pictures and stack them neatly; regardless of how crooked the internal content. We like to prioritize thinking, suppress feeling. We like our systems (I like my system), because they help us turn a blind eye to the chaos. We aestheticize them, so we learn to find them appealing and never have to get rid of them.
The thing about tattoos: we like to think ink lines are permanent. But if you really, really need to- things can always be erased. And though a shadow may stay – things will always heal.
–find beauty everywhere, cutting out the dark bits