I wasn’t in the shower when I thought of the idea. I was sitting at my desk scrolling through my Instagram feed when the tattoo came to me.
I raised my left arm and visualised the permanent mark. A thin line shaped abstractly to the geographic border of Bosnia & Herzegovina, the country I'm from.
The idea wasn't entirely out of context. It was simply the image of my deduction; that I, like the country of my birth possess a melancholic melody that reverberates through my interior.
Bosnia & Herzegovina is called the heart-shaped land of the Balkans. A small country in south-central Europe that like many of its Balkan neighbours, had its fair share of ups and downs. In 2013, while living there for a period of time, I became innately exposed to this metaphysical state of its reality. I could sense how both the built environment and its people were marked by its war-torn history. While the abandoned villages, bullet ridden walls of cities were weak from the sorrow of this past, the people were weak from their sorrowful memories. But still, they sauntered forward, living with resilience in their dire present.
Bosnia, I recognised oscillated freely between joy and sorrow, swinging like a pendulum, in air between the two, like a permanent happy, unhappy heart. This diffused energy lulled into me while I lived there, but it took me another five years to recognise this same feeling within myself.
The writer, Charles Bukowski used to say that he was so used to melancholia that he greeted it like an old friend. While I don’t greet it like an old friend, I have come to acknowledge its existence in my life – and the tattoo was meant as an everlasting nod to my acknowledgement.
I wanted to remind myself of the journey it took me to understand myself. So, every time I saw it on my arm, I’d feel inspired rather than dejected.
I’ve always been prone to vulnerability and sensitivity. I enter spaces where I dissolve sorrows, regrets, ignored justices and the half-baked promises I make to others. Something profound happens to us during this period. We’re sensitive to the point that it drives us further in, into ourselves. Unlike egoism, it’s not a state of elation. It’s something deeply fragile, delicate like butterfly wings.
When I reach these levels, it deeply informs my creativity. I write to think about who we are and what it means to be human. To unfold every page of my private humanity. This includes the difficult states. Without them, who am I?
Creatively, understanding this form of vulnerability elevates your understanding of the human psyche. It gives you insights into ideas you never knew existed. Your eyes shine brighter. Your ears listen more intently. You feel, with effervescence.
With time, I’ve come to believe that this level of emotional openness I accepted was my journey into humility.
Humility is a virtue I would admit, is often recognised only later in life. It's elusive. A perpetual ambition, almost always a little bit out of reach because we tend to live more confidently with vanity in youth. The wiser we become, the more we see how much vanity doesn’t define who we are.
The sorrows I experience aren’t meant to be hidden, or buried. The wounds are as much a part of me as my joys – and respecting this detection needed to be symbolised.
A few months after my decisive moment, I made an appointment to get the tattoo.
The tattooist listened to my story intently. She clearly understood what I wanted to symbolise but she also questioned it, because sadness/sorrow has a release point. A lightness. Instead of a closed shape, she designed it with an open funnel to characterise the release of the melancholic melody that comes to me at times. As I watched her puncture my arm delicately with a needle, I felt proud. I saw the shape I imagined come together on my forearm with new meaning. I didn’t feel the throbbing pain. Nor any regret. Each jolt just made me realise with a deep, truthful appreciation that nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. Even sorrow.