It’s winter break and there’s lots to see, read, and write. I attempted to engage some of my other MFAers in a short story reading frenzy over break. We compiled a list of our favorites, and I don’t know how they feel about it, but at times, I find the accomplishment of composing a list so satisfying in and of itself that actually setting out to complete the items on the list becomes less important. Nevertheless. Here in suburban Detroit, in addition to indulging in the many comforts of home, I have managed to read some things and would like to now talk about them. I hope to have more posts like this in the future but let’s not get into the business of making promises.
Observations about Tattooizm, by Kevin Moffett.
(I don’t want to summarize. Read the short story and come back to me.)
1. More than anything, I feel, this is a story about nostalgia, told in the present tense. It’s a warning of Andrea’s future, that she’ll come to miss how nice Dixon, her current boyfriend is. She assumes that her next boyfriend will be as attentive sexually as he is, but she’s 19. She doesn’t know anything. The fact that this male author can see so deeply into my naive 19 year old mind both humbles and frightens me. What else do they know?
2. The story assumes that women are better at tolerating pain than men, esp. in regards to getting tattoos, and this is an observation that I personally agree with. The implication in the story is that Andrea will hurt less after the breakup than Dixon.
3. There’s a wonderful use of “object” here. Dixon practices tattoos on himself. He asks for Andrea’s middle name and she gives the false “Olive.” He tattoos it on his forearm. From this we can only conclude that this man is nuts for her, and we mourn for him and the disparity in their relationship. Later, Andrea discovers the tattoo can be read as “O live!” And now all of us (readers, characters, the great god above) feel differently about the situation indeed. The lesson here is that we know how the characters feel based on their changed reaction to the same object. (Thanks to Robert Boswell’s workshop and his lesson re: “The lady and the Dog” by Chekhov, oh, how all of a sudden the yapping stupid dog at the beginning of the story is so much better received now that we’re in love!)
4. I have other notes here that I took right after reading the story, and they seem less profound to me now and I don’t know how to elaborate on them. They include, but are not limited to: “All I know is, I felt the same way about going to school for the first time, and I was wrong.” “It’s about men being too easily won.”
5. Another lesson learned: close third present tense is good for sudden changes in mind. There’s a moment where Andrea is experiencing a flooding of emotions/personal reactions to something, and then as soon as they start, in the same paragraph even, the mind is on to new things. “She decides to paint her toenails copper red.”
I liked this story a lot. I liked it because it was written by a man, and yet it had such startlingly accurate observations about a 19 year old girl’s psyche, and further, my psyche, which as I mentioned is both exhilarating and frightening. It doesn’t just know about 19 year old girls, it knows about 24 year old men as well, and in this relationship, nobody is as dumb as they appear to one another. Finally, I liked that this was a serious piece of literature about young people, and not just any kind of young person, but the kind that live in the modern world and are covered with tattoos and go real places and do real things. This is writing born out of my generation and I, at the very least, am delighted the opportunity to discuss it and take it seriously.
Oh lonely Internet space, if you search for Kevin Moffett’s Tattooizm whimsically on google and find me and want to discuss, please leave a comment. The spammy replies I get and (regretfully) reject are so disheartening. “Hey great site! (link)ass fuck(/link).”