Not quite six years ago, I decided to walk away from my old life.
I realized that my twenty-year career managing software projects, while lucrative, was not fulfilling. Actually, let me be blunt: it was crushing my soul.
I was fortunate enough to have enough money to make a career transition, and to take some time to decide what to do next.
Of course, figuring out what to do next wasn’t going to be easy. As I wrote in my blog post “Chrysalis”, announcing my decision,
What to do next? That’s more complicated. I’d love to work in the craft arena, because that’s where my heart is. However, creative pursuits, particularly craftwork, are notoriously underpaid. And the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live. That means I need to earn enough to pay my share of a Silicon Valley mortgage, since we have no intentions of moving. That makes it unlikely that I’ll be able to make my entire living from working in craft or craft publishing.
Well. You know what happened next. After six years of working my ass off, working harder than I’d ever done before in my life, I’ve arrived at a point where I can, in fact, pay my half of the mortgage, working as a weaving teacher. This is what I had dreamed I might be able to do, but not expected – how could anyone possibly expect that? – and, well, here I am.
And now Janet Dawson and I are on our way to fulfilling another of my dreams – founding an online weaving academy, where weavers who want to learn how to weave better, and to design their own work, can do just that, in a supportive community of teachers and weavers. I won’t go deep into our plans, but let’s just say that this is what I desperately wanted when I was a beginning weaver, and we are carefully designing and planning a school that we think will be a huge benefit for the weaving community, in addition to being a decades-long career for both of us.
At this point I feel like I have finally made the transition from software project manager to full-time weaving teacher/entrepreneur. The door is finally closed on the previous chapter of my life, and I’m starting a new one.
So it’s time for a rite of passage.
This one’s a curious one. I had never really thought about the prospect until a few months ago – it was always “something for other people”.
Then, sometime in June, I thought, “It’s time. I want a tattoo. A phoenix, rising from its ashes.”
The phoenix, of course, has been my unofficial personal symbol for quite some time. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to reinvent myself, either because of the bipolar disorder or because of some other disaster or sea change in my life. But after weaving a phoenix for my mother’s passing, and rebirthing myself out of the ashes of a previous career, I feel like it’s something that connects me to my personal power, and to the spirit of powerful change. There’s a lot of that going on in my life right now, so I want something permanent to mark that passage.
It’s not that different from the scarification that used to happen with manhood rites, except that in this case it’s something I’m doing for personal, not tribal, significance.
I’m going to put it on my right upper arm – I’m right-handed, so that’s a place that feels powerful to me, and it’s also a good place to put a tattoo to keep it protected from sun and chafing, which will help keep it from fading. I can also decide whether I want to show it or not.
The artist I’ve chosen to have do the tattoo is Tadi, a Korean artist who’ll be visiting San Francisco as a guest artist for three months. Here are two examples of his work on Instagram, which will give you an idea of his style:
And the inspirational photo I sent him, which is about the size and pose that I’m thinking of, is this one:
Tadi will be drawing a custom design for me, of course, and we’ll be finalizing the details a day or two before my tattoo appointment. That’s November 30 – a week and a bit after I finish teaching Gorgeous Gradients.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aren’t you worried you might regret this later?
Kiddo, there ain’t much I’ve done in the last six years that I might NOT have had serious reason to regret. Starting with walking away from a job that paid comfortably into six figures for a VERY uncertain and unproven financial life as a weaving teacher. Also, deciding to stay married when my wife came out as transgender three years ago, despite being a heterosexual woman who thought she’d married a man. Also, deciding to change from the solo weaving career to starting a weaving academy. Also, see my entire past history.
I’m not an irrational risk-taker, but the whole point of this tattoo is to celebrate the culmination of a high-risk move that, with a ton of very hard, very carefully thought-out work, has proved tremendously rewarding. There are reasons that I might decide against it, but concerns about future regrets aren’t one of them.
But tattoos fade. Aren’t you worried that it’s going to look ugly in 30 years?
Well, first, I’m 51. I’m not interested in winning beauty contests now (though I am tempted to enter powerlifting contests – I’d be third in the state of California for my age group if I did!), and 30 years from now, I’ll be 81 and (I hope) even less vain about my appearance.
Second, I did think things through, and did some research. Of all the tattoo colors, black fades the least. Fine lines, such as Tadi uses, do eventually fade away (we’re talking 15-20 years though), but they can also be retouched by another tattoo artist, so I’m not worried about that. The fine lines will also spread and fuzz out slightly, but since the lines are mostly used to create shading, again, not a big issue. Finally, how much abrasion, sun, wind, etc. the skin gets has a big effect on the longevity of the tattoo. So my choice of the upper arm is great – it’s a well protected area and doesn’t rub against clothing much.
And, if all else fails, black is also the most easily removed color for laser tattoo removal.
Aren’t tattoos just a flash-in-the-pan trendy thing?
According to Ipsos, 30% of Americans have at least one tattoo, so apparently I’m not particularly hip and trendy by getting one. (Sigh.)
What do the cats think of your getting a tattoo?
Hey babe, keep handing over those cat treats and you can do whatever the heck you want with the rest of your time!
Katrina Hunt says
I also had my first tattoo at around 51. I think it’s a perfect way to express your amazing rite of passage. I hope I’m still learning from you when your 81.
Tien Chiu says
Thanks, Katrina! 🙂
Cindi Moosey says
We all walk our own path in life. I would worry about causing injury to an asset I need the most. I am finishing\ repairing a house my husband and I built. So I can sell it and build a studio house on the lot I own next door. Almost all have tried to talk me out of it. So to each his own.
Jenny Sethman says
What an amazing tattoo artist. I think tattoos are great ways to celebrate our bodies and who we are. Please post a picture when it’s done. I can’t wait to see it!
Ann S. says
Go Tien Go! You’ve always landed well on your feet, because you just go for your goals, and know when to pivot… I suspect a little bit of blessings and luck are on your side too! Can’t wait to see that phoenix!
Linda Morehouse says
I, personally, have never been a fan of tattoos. But (she inventories how she feels about this) I think you should do as you wish and it won’t change the way I think about you at all. I did notice that the emblem you chose doesn’t have nearly enough orange, your favorite color! (and, tongue in cheek) it needs some gradients! I, too, would love to see a picture when you are through.