Mom's Tattoo Inspires Book Of Family Essays Longtime music journalist Jancee Dunn was shocked when her 67-year-old mom announced she wanted to get inked. The unlikely event inspired her new book of essays, Why is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?
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Mom's Tattoo Inspires Book Of Family Essays

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Mom's Tattoo Inspires Book Of Family Essays

Mom's Tattoo Inspires Book Of Family Essays

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When I turned 50, I gave myself a birthday present: a tattoo. I had always wanted a tattoo, but tattoo parlors were illegal when I was growing up in Massachusetts. So when my daughter, an aficionada of body art, suggested I visit her inker in Florida, I went along for the ride and came out with a blue rose on my ankle.

I tell you this as an introduction to our next guest, Jancee Dunn. A longtime music journalist and former MTV VJ, she has just published a new collection of essays called "Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask." Dunn joins us from our studio in New York. Welcome to the program, Jancee.

Ms. JANCEE DUNN (Author, "Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask"): I'm trying to say thank you, but I have to maintain my composure. Liane, I didn't know this about you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: I know. That's the beauty of radio, you know. No one gets to see me, but it was something I really wanted. So I - you can see why I was intrigued by the title of your book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNN: Well, my mouth is hanging open. I love it.

HANSEN: Oh. Well, before we get to the tattoo story, since all of the essays in the book are about your family, we should know more about them. Tell us a little bit about your mom and dad.

Ms. DUNN: Okay. My mother is a former beauty queen. She was the Citronelle Alabama Oil Queen of 1960 and a former flight attendant, and now she's retired. And my father worked for JCPenney for many years, right near the tattoo parlor where my mother got a tattoo - in New Jersey. And he is now retired, also. And they volunteer and they travel, and they just provide endless fodder for me.

HANSEN: How would you characterize your relationship with them and the rest of your family?

Ms. DUNN: We are very close, in fact, almost too close. We all email and call each other many times a day, and it can be seen as healthy or unhealthy, depending.

HANSEN: Right. I mean, major decisions cannot be made without the input of your father. I mean, even when you went to buy refrigerator, you had to make sure that you called Dad and he got out his Consumer Reports.

Ms. DUNN: Yes, which are dated back to the Clinton administration. He has them in a file in his den. And no matter what you're buying, you have to call my father because otherwise, you know, his heart would be broken. So, any major appliance, any home improvement, I have to call Dad. And then a sheaf of clippings reliably shows up in the mail from Consumer Reports.

HANSEN: All right. Now to the tattoo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: When did your mother announce that she wanted one?

Ms. DUNN: It was Thanksgiving. And we were all finishing up dessert and then my mother made this crazy announcement, I'm getting a tattoo. She's from Alabama, so I imitate her like (unintelligible), which she really doesn't sound like that. But you know how you imitate people that you know? So she said, I'm getting a tattoo, and nobody can talk me out of it. I've already decided. And nobody said anything. And then finally, I think I said, what are you going to get? I'm getting a raven. We said to her, why a raven? I just like ravens. And there was, you know, she kept saying that my generation has had too much therapy and that there are, you know, we have to ascribe a deep psychological reason for every decision that we make.

But she said, you know what? My generation - I just want art on my body. And I said, are you having a midlife crisis? And she said, I've passed midlife. Do you like how I keep imitating her? But I can't help it. And I do it to my sisters, too. And it took me a while to realize, maybe she just wants art on her body. So, you know, the daughter in me was horrified, as were my two other sisters, as was my father.

HANSEN: Now, where did she want this tattoo?

Ms. DUNN: Liane, okay, she wanted it on her wrist. And we kept trying to say, mom - I mean, this is a woman who wears pink, cable-knit sweaters. She's a member of the Garden Club and the Women's Club in her community. And I thought, a giant, black raven right on your wrist? That clashes with the cable knit. But she was determined and, in fact, when I found the tattoo artist, I called him ahead of time before their consultation and said, listen, can you talk her out of it and have her put it on the ankle? Then you can cover it up with a sock. And he said, uh-huh, nope, I like the idea of it being on the wrist. It can be very beautiful if you do it the right way. And I thought, oh - integrity.

HANSEN: Describe the scene in the artist's studio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNN: You know, first of all, we showed up early for our appointment and, by the way, that morning she said, I think I've changed my mind, I don't know if I want a raven. I might want an eye on my wrist. I said, that's where you spray perfume. You know, what is that sadistic exercise you do every morning, you know? And, also, wouldn't you need a matching eye on the other wrist? Please, go with the raven. I thought, wow, I'm talking her back into the raven.

So we went there. We showed up early, of course. And there's music blaring. They made us wait because the tattoo artist was late. And then we were led to his kind of lair, and it had a brain in formaldehyde. It was very dark. There was, you know, posters everywhere of various rock bands. And I thought, I can't believe I'm here.

HANSEN: And there's your mom in the midst of all of these rather pale, Goth, pierced and tattooed people in her, what, her Talbots outfit?

Ms. DUNN: Yes. She had on this kind of spring green coat. And she was having a grand old time. And in the meantime, they loved her. And, in fact, when she went to go the ladies room at one point, the tattoo artist said to me, your mom is the coolest.

HANSEN: Huh. So how did the tattoo turn out?

Ms. DUNN: You know, it actually looks good. I'm not used to it, still. But it's a fairly delicate design of a raven. But all of us, you know, we got together recently and my mother kind of - we were around the table again - she passed us something and flashed the tattoo. And we all jump a little bit. And my father jumps like a roach has crawled out of her sleeve. He is not used to it at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DUNN: But it actually, you know, it's just become a part of her.

HANSEN: Jancee Dunn's new collection of essays is titled "Why is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had To Ask." Jancee Dunn joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you.

Ms. DUNN: Oh, it was a pleasure.

HANSEN: Not every tattoo experience is so pleasant. Here are a few stories from our colleagues.

ENRIQUE RIVERA: I'm Enrique Rivera, and I'm a freelancer. So I was drunk in Chile a few years ago, and I decided to get a tattoo as homage to my friend, who passed away. It's a cross similar to the one he had, with his name written around it. Now, I'm wasted, but they do it anyway because it's Chile.

Anyway, right when they're finished, they asked me, do you want me to fill in the eyes? And I say, what eyes? And they say, the eyes on the devil. And I say, there's a devil on my cross?

AMY MORGAN: I'm Amy Morgan. I'm from Digital News. So I got a Chinese character that I saw hanging on a tattoo shop wall and the word princess underneath it. I thought that would be perfect because my dad's called me that since I was born. So I got a tattoo on my back and when I proudly showed it to my Chinese friend, she kind of laughed and said, why did you get that? And I said, why? It means princess, right? And she said, oh, I guess I can see that, but literally it means emperor's concubine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

VIET LE: My name is Viet Le. I'm with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I went into a tattoo shop in South Philly on a dare and came out with what I thought was a pretty manly shark on my right shoulder. But then when I went on a family trip to Vietnam, I was at the beach and this group of little kids came up to me and were pointing and they said (Foreign language spoken), you have a dolphin on your shoulder. And in my limited Vietnamese I told them, no, my fish eats meat. My fish eats people. But they just laughed.

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