by Sandra Bark
“I have a really strong connection to Thirteen,” my friend told our new neighbor, while we waited for John Sellers to begin reading from THE OLD MAN AND THE SWAMP, his very funny memoir about family. “I’ve been thinking of having it tattooed myself. What made you choose it? It’s beautiful.”
“Oh,” said the woman. “The shop was offering a promotion! It was only thirteen dollars. A bunch of people got them. Awesome, huh?”
A few days later, I met up with my friend at Lot 2 in the South Slope. Over pre-dinner cocktails and lavender marcona almonds, she showed me her new tattoo: the word thirteen, in a delicate, scrolling script. Above it was a bird in flight.
“Awesome,” I said. “So, so awesome.”
Later that night, I did some thinking, and then I wrote this post. How can two things be so similar but so different? Both tattoos were of the number 13. Both were aesthetically pleasing. Are the tattoos the same? One is a spontaneous reaction to a promotional event. The other is pre-meditated, a meditation, an offering. My friend’s tattoo is not the stuff of anecdote. It is a totem to a life lived. It is a testament to a person who was loved.
What creates value? Economists have been trying to pin this down for centuries, and their theories have a lot to do with the market and with supply and demand. But two tattoos of the number thirteen do not make each other more or less valuable. The value is created not by the market, not by the supply, but by the intention that we bring. We create the value. If we make it matter, it matters.
A needle is a needle. Ink is ink. A tattoo is whatever you want it to be.
Is a tattoo silly or remarkable? Is a yoga practice boring or transcendent? Is love fleeting or eternal? Is the number 13 unlucky? Or is it the most beautiful number in the world?